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Researchers Find ‘Bad’ Cholesterol Contributes to Cancer Spread

Integrins play major role

Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia have discovered one of the main reasons why cancer spreads throughout the body — the help of “bad” cholesterol.

According to an article in Cell Reports, the investigators found that low-density lipoprotein (LDL) regulates the mechanism that controls cell migration, a major finding in the search to explain cancer metastasis.

Senior author Dr. Thomas Grewal said the new discovery has important implications for cancer research.

“One of the things that make cancer so difficult to treat is the fact that it can spread around the body,” he said. “Most of the cells in our bodies stick to neighboring cells through the help of ‘Velcro-like’ molecules on their surfaces, known as integrins. Unfortunately, integrins also help cancer cells that have broken away from a cancerous tumor to take root elsewhere in the body.

“Our study identified that ‘bad’ [LDL] cholesterol controls the trafficking of tiny vessels, which also contain these integrins, and this has huge effects on the ability of cancer cells to move and spread throughout the body.

“Our research found that having high amounts of ‘bad’ cholesterol seems to help the integrins in cancer cells to move and spread. In contrast, we found that high levels of ‘good’ [high-density lipoprotein (HDL)] cholesterol keep integrins inside cells and may therefore protect against cancer cell spread.”

Researchers have extensively examined how integrins can move to the inside of cells. Studies showed that cholesterol, one of the body’s major lipids, is needed to keep integrins on the surface of cancer cells. However, up until now it was unclear where this cholesterol was coming from and how it could be manipulated to treat cancer.

“Our findings contribute to the debate that cholesterol levels may be associated with cancer incidence,” Grewal said. “In fact, malignant cancer cells are known to take up increased amounts of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.

“Our findings advance the theory that knowing how to manipulate and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol could significantly help to reduce the ability of cancer cells to spread.”

Grewal has been collaborating with faculty at the University of Barcelona in Spain for 15 years to delineate the relationship between cancer and cholesterol.

Source: University of Sydney; May 7, 2014.

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