Researchers reveal prostate tumours ‘fed’ by fatty acids

Fatty acids and prostate cancer cells and increase tumour growth
Hematoxylin and eosin stain (H&E) image showing adipocytes (white oval shapes; which store vast amounts of fatty acids) in close contact with prostate cancer. Image credit: Renea Taylor and Matthew Watt

An international multidisciplinary study initiated by Melbourne scientists has shown a link between prostate cancer and the uptake of fatty acids by cancer cells. The findings point to a possible therapeutic target for this common cancer.

Prostate cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in men, accounting for 15 per cent of male cancer diagnoses and 8 per cent of all cancer cases. More than 17 700 estimated new cases were diagnosed in 2018 in Australia.

Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) Deputy Director of Cancer Program Renea Taylor and University of Melbourne Physiology Department Head Matthew Watt co-led a research program investigating cancer metabolism, looking for fuel sources for particular cancers, and identified fatty acids as an important source for prostate tumours.

Associate Professor Taylor said: “There is a strong link between obesity, diet and poor outcomes in men who develop prostate cancer. In particular, those men who consume more saturated fatty acids seem to have more aggressive cancer.”

The researchers found that fatty acids are taken up into prostate cancer cells and increase tumour growth. They then blocked the uptake of fatty acid by genetically deleting the key fatty acid transporter and showed that they could slow the cancer’s development.

The key to the discovery was the combination of Professor Watt’s world-class expertise as a metabolic researcher with Associate Professor Taylor’s strong record as a cancer biologist and their use of human tissue samples of prostate cancer.

Professor Watt said: “We’ve known for many years that dysfunctional fatty acid metabolism is linked to many chronic diseases. Applying this knowledge to cancer, and providing the evidence to develop a therapy to treat a disease that impacts so many men is deeply satisfying.”

He said the major clinical challenge in the field was to prevent progression to aggressive disease.

Associate Professor Taylor said: “Our whole concept is about giving more appropriate treatment earlier to stop men getting to the late or advanced stage. Our studies showed that blocking fatty acid transport is one way to do this.”

The research was funded by Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, the Diabetes Australia Research Trust and the Cancer Council Victoria.  Read the full paper in Science Translational Medicine titled Suppressing Fatty Acid Uptake has therapeutic effects in mouse models of prostate cancer.