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Top 10 Cancer Research News Stories of 2019

Top 10 Cancer Research News Stories of 2019 content piece image

2019 has been an exciting year for the cancer research field. This list details the top 10 most-read news stories from the field this year, published on Technology Networks.

Cancer Cells Switch Sugar for Fatty Acids to Spread Around the Body

Researchers have discovered a crucial “change” that occurs in cancer cells that enables them to spread throughout the body. By changing their “diet”, the cancer cells can invade new sites where energy sources – such as glucose – are limited. Research conducted by a team from The Institute of Cancer Research reveals that a protein called AKR1B10 helps the cells adapt the way in which they get their energy. When levels of AKR1B10 are high it reduces the cells’ dependency on sugar as fuel and increases their ability to utilize fatty acids as an alternative source.

Published in: Nature Communications

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Calculating Cancer Risk: How Many Cigarettes Are There in a Bottle of Wine?

Knowledge of the established link between tobacco smoking and cancer could provide a way to raise awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer, according to a new study. For non-smoking men, the risk of developing cancer during their lifetime associated with drinking one bottle of wine per week was 1%. This risk appeared to be primarily linked to gastrointestinal cancers. For non-smoking women, the risk of developing cancer during their lifetime associated with drinking one bottle of wine per week was 1.4%. This risk appeared to be linked to breast cancers in 55% of cases. The authors note that this research does not suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation is in any way equivalent to smoking. The study addresses cancer risk in isolation to estimate the approximate absolute lifetime risk of cancer in non-smokers.

Published in: BMC Public Health

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Converting Cancer Cells to Fat Cells to Stop Cancer’s Spread

A team from the University of Basel has discovered a way to trick breast cancer cells into transforming into fat cells. The researchers were able to transform EMT-derived breast cancer cells into fat cells in a mouse model of the disease – preventing the formation of metastases. Using models of both murine and human breast cancer, they set out to determine if it was possible to therapeutically target cancer cells during the process of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) – whilst the cells are in a highly plastic state. When the mice were administered Rosiglitazone in combination with MEK inhibitors, it triggered the transformation of the cancer cells into post-mitotic and functional adipocytes (fat cells).

Published in: Cancer Cell

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Creatine Fuels T Cells’ Fight Against Cancer

According to research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, creatine serves as a “molecular battery” for immune cells – storing and distributing energy to the immune cells, enabling them to fight cancer. The study, which was conducted using a mouse model, is the first to demonstrate that creatine uptake is essential to the anti-cancer activity of CD8 T cells. The lab genetically engineered murine models so that the CD8 T cells were deficient in a gene known as Slc6a8 – that codes creatine transporter protein molecules. The animals lacking the ability to take up creatine were less capable of fighting tumors. The team also noted that additional work suggested that creatine supplementation could improve the efficacy of immunotherapies.

Published in: Journal of Experimental Medicine

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Injecting Dying Cells to Trigger Tumor Destruction

By directly injecting engineered dying (necroptotic) cells into tumors, a team has successfully triggered the immune system to attack cancer cells at multiple sites within the body, reducing tumor growth, and prolonging the survival of the mice. The researchers determined that the dying cells were functioning through interaction with the tumor microenvironment rather than acting on antigen-specific T cells. This novel strategy presents as a potential future treatment approach that could be used, in combination with existing immunotherapy drugs, to "boost" the body's ability to fight cancer.

Published in: Science Immunology

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Cancer Cells Resort to Cannibalism To Survive Chemo

By “consuming” neighboring cancer cells, some cells have found a way to obtain the energy they need to remain alive and induce relapse after a course of chemotherapy is completed. The team used RNA sequencing and gene set enrichment analysis (GSEA) to determine that chemotherapy treated tumors in vivo and cell lines in vitro were highly enriched for macrophage-like programs of genes involved in “engulfment”. The cannibalistic behavior wasn’t confined to breast cancer cells; other cancer cell types including lung and osteosarcoma, became capable of “eating” their neighbors once senescent and were able to survive in culture for longer than those senescent cells that didn’t engulf. A video showing a senescent cancer cell engulfing a neighboring cell can be seen 

Published in: Journal of Cell Biology

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Tumors Backfire on Chemotherapy

Not all tumors shrink following chemotherapy treatment. In these cases, there is a higher risk of developing metastatic disease – whereby the cancer spreads to different sites within the body. Now, researchers have shed light on this process. Using tumor models, the team were able to determine that two chemotherapy drugs (paclitaxel and doxorubicin) caused mammary tumors to release exosomes (small vesicles) containing a protein called annexin-A6. The exosomes are capable of traveling to different sites where they release their cargo (including annexin-A6). They observed that release of annexin-A6 stimulated lung cells to release CCL2 which “attracts” immune cells called monocytes. Monocytes have been known to facilitate the survival and growth of tumor cells.

Published in: Nature Cell Biology

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Cancer Cells Greedy for Glucose

To fuel its “out-of-control” growth, cancer needs energy. Typically, cancerous cells get their energy in the form of glucose. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center has shown that leukemia cells can “undercut” normal cells’ ability to consume glucose – meaning they have more available to feed themselves and fuel their own growth. The leukemia cells were able to achieve this in two ways. Firstly, the cancer cells trick fat cells into overproducing a protein (IGFBP1) – which makes “normal” cells less sensitive to insulin – meaning they require more insulin for them to be able to “use” glucose. If the insulin supply isn’t high enough, the glucose consumption of the normal cells reduces. The second strategy is related to the microbiome – this was different in leukemic animals compared to control mice.

Published in: Cancer Cell

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3D Imaging Reveals How Pancreatic Cancers Start

A technique designed to study tissues in 3D, developed by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, has revealed that pancreatic cancers can arise and grow in two distinct ways from ductal cells. “Endophytic” tumors grow into the ducts and “exophytic” tumors grow outward from the duct. To investigate what causes the cells to grow in a particular way and to understand the tissue shape further, they analyzed 3D tissue images and generated computational models of the ducts. The team were able to determine that the cancerous cells grow outwards if the diameter of the duct is less than ~20 micrometers.

Published in: Nature

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Cancer-sniffing Dogs Detect Lung Cancer With 97% Accuracy

After eight weeks of training, three beagles were able to differentiate between blood serum samples taken from patients with malignant lung cancer and healthy controls with 97% accuracy. This double-blind study is a first step towards identifying unique biomarkers for non-small cell lung cancer. The team are now working on a second study – this time using patient’s breath. They hope that the dogs will be able to detect “traces” of lung, breast, and colorectal cancer from patient samples. The team hope that the studies will lead to better screening and diagnosis solutions for cancer.

Published in: The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

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