Australian cancer researchers discover fats and cholesterol are linked to aggressive cancers

Cancer researcher breakthroughs supported by Australian Charity ACRF

Research has revealed how fats – including cholesterol – could increase the progression of aggressive cancers.

Study leader, Associate Professor Michelle Hill at University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute, said the findings offered potential new treatment strategies and targets.

“Our previous research showed a high cholesterol diet increased the spread of prostate cancer tumours to lymph nodes, lungs and bones,” Dr Hill said.

“The new study has extended the results to melanoma, breast, ovarian and kidney cancers by analysing published data sets.”

Dr Hill said cholesterol and other fats were essential components of cell membranes, and played a role in regulating processes such as cell migration and division.

“Cholesterol makes specialised membrane regions which are important regulators of cell function, and our laboratory has been investigating how these membrane regions increase cancer progression,” Dr Hill said.

“By comparing data published by other research groups using melanoma, breast and kidney cancer models, we were able to identify common mechanisms associated with increased cancer progression.

“Interestingly, the amount of cytoskeleton (cell skeleton) proteins at the cholesterol membranes are elevated in more aggressive cancers in all models.”

The cytoskeleton is a network of fibres connecting parts of the cell, which plays an important role in structural integrity.

“Some chemotherapy drugs work on breaking up the cytoskeleton, notably the taxane family of drugs including docetaxel.

“Because of its importance in all cells, targeting the cytoskeleton leads to toxicities and side effects for patients.

“If we can identify a specific cancer-associated change in cytoskeleton, then more specific therapies could be designed to kill cancer without affecting normal cells.”

Dr Hill said the group’s previous study on prostate cancer had revealed a reduction in the cytoskeleton-cholesterol membrane link when a gene that suppresses tumour growth was activated.

“When we tested a completely unrelated tumour suppressor gene in an ovarian cancer cell model, we again found a correlation between reduction of cytoskeleton-cholesterol membrane linkage and cancer properties.”

The team will now follow up on the specific molecules responsible for increasing cytoskeleton-cholesterol membrane linkage in cancer.

Dr Hill said the research reinforces the importance of cancer patients maintaining low cholesterol levels, in consultation with their clinicians. The study has been published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

The original news article was published on the University of Queensland’s website. Image of Associate Professor Hill courtesy of Diamantina Institute.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation has supported cancer research at Diamantina Institute by providing three grants, totalling AUD $6.2 M, towards cutting edge cancer research equipment and technology.