A new study has found evidence that brain tumours use fat as their preferred source of energy, bringing into question the decades-long assumption that sugar is their main fuel source. If confirmed, this could fundamentally change the we treat cancer in the future, because until very recently, scientists have been focussing their efforts on ways to starve cancer cells of their sugar supply.
“For 60 years, we have believed all tumours rely on sugars for their energy source, and the brain relies on sugars for its energy source, so you certainly would think brain tumours would,” lead researcher Elizabeth Stoll, a neuroscientist from Newcastle University in the UK, told Ian Johnston at The Independent. A glioma is a type of brain tumour that grows from glial cells – cells that support the neurons and help maintain the blood-brain barrier.
Glial cells make up 90 percent of the brain’s total cells, and until recently have been shrouded in mystery. There are three types of glial tumours – astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma, and glioblastoma – and they can be notoriously difficult to treat. Glioblastomas are the most common and most aggressive form, with just 30 percent of patients in the US living to more than two years after diagnosis.
A new target for treatments could make a huge difference, with Stoll and her team finding that when they inhibited the tumour cell’s ability to process fat as fuel, their growth rate slowed significantly, which equates to a better survival rate.
The team worked with human tumour tissue that had been donated by glioma patients undergoing surgery, and live mouse models of the disease, and treated them with a fatty acid oxidation inhibitor called etomoxir.
“We tested etomoxir in our animal model, and showed that systemic doses of this drug slow glioma growth, prolonging median survival time by 17 percent,” Stoll said in a press statement. “These results provide a novel drug target which could aid in the clinical treatment of this disease for patients in the future.” Source: Scientists just discovered we’ve been looking at cancer growth all wrong