Researchers reveal prostate tumours 'fed' by fatty acids

Fat cells sitting adjacent to prostate cancer cells in a human prostate, providing a direct supply of fatty acids for the cancer to grow.
Fat cells sitting adjacent to prostate cancer cells in a human prostate, providing a direct supply of fatty acids for the cancer to grow.

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 Head of Cancer Program Associate Professor Renea Taylor and University of Melbourne Physiology Department Head Professor 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. The findings were published today in Science Translational Medicine.

“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,” Associate Professor Taylor said.

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.

“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,” Professor Watt said.

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

“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,” Associate Professor Taylor said.

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 preclinical models of prostate cancer.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.

About the University of Melbourne Department of Physiology
The Department of Physiology was established in 1862 and has a proud and strong record of excellence in research, research training, learning and teaching, community and media engagement. The Department’s goal is to remain at the forefront of scientific research using novel and imaginative research methods to study cardiovascular health, neurophysiology, and muscle and exercise physiology.