The discovery of a specific metastasis-promoting cell type has led to the development of a drug that can, in mouse models, prevent the spread of cancer from one body part to another. The findings, reported online in Nature this week, also highlight a prominent role for dietary lipids in cancer metastasis.
Metastasis is the main cause of cancer-related death, but for most cancers, the identity of the cells that trigger the phenomenon is unknown. This makes the development of anti-metastatic therapies difficult. Salvador Aznar Benitah and colleagues have identified a cell type, found in human oral carcinoma samples, that expresses high levels of the fatty acid receptor, CD36, and that has high metastatic potential in mice. When the receptor is blocked using antibodies in mouse cancer models, metastasis is significantly reduced, and metastases that are already present notably shrink or disappear.
The antibody has a metastasis-blocking effect, not just for human oral carcinoma cells injected into mouse cancer models, but also for human melanoma and breast cancer cells. This finding suggests there may be a general mechanism underlying tumour metastasis, and hints that CD36-blocking therapies might have widespread application. Clinically, the presence of these CD36-expressing cells correlates with poor prognosis for many different carcinomas, and in mouse models, a high fat diet appears to boost the cells’ metastatic potential.