Researchers have identified a protein in cancer cells found to have the ability to spread. Called CD36, the protein depends on fatty acids to function, highlighting the role of high-fat diets in promoting cancer metastasis.

In a study published in the journal Nature, Salvador Aznar Benitah and colleagues detailed CD36's identification, showing that the protein features a unique activity that allows for cells that initiate metastasis to be distinguished from other tumor cells.

The researchers also found that CD36 manifests across different types of cancers, including skin, lung, ovarian, breast, and lung cancer types. To determine if the protein indeed plays a crucial role in spreading the disease, they introduced CD36 to non-metastatic cancer cells and observed that the protein had turned the cells metastatic.

"Although we have not yet tested this in all tumor types, we can state that CD36 is a general marker of metastatic cells," said Benitah.

The researchers expect the results of their study to have a huge impact in furthering metastasis research and they are hoping to be able to validate the protein's potential as a target for anti-metastasis therapy.

High-Fat Diets Promote The Spread Of Cancer

To determine the role fat intake plays in the spread of cancer, the researchers fed mice with diets high in fat and injected them with a one type of human oral cancer. Eating fatty food caused 50 percent more mice to develop larger, more frequent metastases.

They then tested palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid found in many household products, treating human oral tumors with it for two days before injecting them in mice on standard diets. The researchers saw that all of the mice with CD36 experienced cancer spread with palmitic acid introduced to their systems, while just half of those who didn't get the fatty acid developed cancer metastasis.

Benitah said more studies will have to be carried out to explore the relationship between fat intake and higher risks of metastatic cancer, especially when saturated fat and sugar consumption is on the rise.

He added fat is integral to bodily functions but uncontrolled consumption can negatively affect health, as what they were able to show in the current study and what has been reported before in studies on colon cancer tumors.

CD36 As A Metastatic Cancer Treatment Target

After showing that CD36 does promote cancer spread, the researchers demonstrated that blocking the protein can completely halt metastasis.

When CD36-blocking antibodies were administered to them, 20 percent of mice with metastasized cancer exhibited complete removal of cancer spread while others showed metastatic reduction of between 80 and 90 percent. Additionally, the researchers were able to achieve these results without observing serious side effects.

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