patient in bed being fed
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
December 24, 2023 ·  3 min read

Potential New Therapy Turns Cancer Cells into Fat to Stop it from Spreading

Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women, and 2.1 million women are impacted by the disease every year. In 2018, nearly 630 thousand women around the world lost their battle with breast cancer, which makes up fifteen percent of all cancer deaths among women worldwide [1].

Cancer in general is the second leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease [2]. As such, millions of dollars are spent every year to research new therapies and treatments to cure the disease.

There is a new potential cancer therapy that is showing some promise for treating breast cancer, and if it is successful it could save thousands of lives.

Read: Cryotherapy Treatment Saves Nurse with Stage 4 Cancer

A New Potential Cancer Therapy

In a study published in January 2019, researchers successfully converted aggressive breast cancer cells into harmless fat cells, effectively preventing cancer from spreading to the rest of the body [3].

The main reason patients with cancer die is because of metastasis. Metastasis is when cancer cells spread from their original location to different parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system [4].

Cancer cell plasticity is cancer cells’ ability to dramatically change their physiological characteristics, making metastasis possible and rendering the cancer resistant to treatment [5].

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland have harnessed this plasticity to create a new type of cancer treatment. Using an anti-diabetic drug Rosiglitazone along with trametinib, which inhibits the growth and spread of cancer cells, they were able to alter breast cancer cells that were implanted in mice [6].

Rosiglitazone is part of a class of drugs called thiazolidinediones. These drugs bind to receptors that are found on fat tissue and play a role in the formation of mature fat cells [7]. 

These cells, which had metastasized and broken free from the original tumor, were effectively converted into fat cells, which prevented them from continuing to spread through the rest of the mice’s bodies. The drugs used also suppressed the growth of the tumor [7].

Read: After Cancer Wiped Out His Family, This Researcher Taught Our Immune Systems To Fight Back

Future Research

While this procedure has only been performed in mice, it shows great promise as a future new cancer therapy. Since these studies used drugs that are already approved by the FDA, the results could theoretically apply to humans.

Senior study author Gerhard Christofori, who is a professor in the Department of Biomedicine, says that this new approach could be used in combination with existing therapies like conventional chemotherapy to suppress both initial tumor growth and prevent metastasis [8].

That being said, there is a long road ahead in order to get the treatment approved for use. Andrei Gudkov, a cancer researcher and senior vice president for research technology and innovation at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, explains that while the procedure uses two already FDA-approved drugs that could facilitate a potential clinical transition for use in people, the design for such a study would be difficult [7].

Gudkov says this is because trials tests on drugs that prevent metastasis are long and require a large number of patients, and generic drugs are rarely put through lengthy trials because of the time and the expense that is involved.

The researchers, however, believe that their work could have a profound impact on the way we treat cancer. They plan to do further studies to test their drug combination along with existing chemotherapies, and to examine how it affects other types of cancer as well [7].

Keep Reading: 8 of the Best Anti-Cancer Foods. It’s Time to Start Adding them to Your Diet