A study shows for the first time that low density lipoprotein, or LDL, helps cancer cells migrate by providing them with velcro-like molecules that help take up root elsewhere.
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An important part of research and studies is to understand the processes of metastasis as cancer cells escape their primary tumor site, travel to other parts of the body and grow into secondary cancers. These metastases are often the major cause of death from cancer.
Most of the cells in the body stick to each other because they have velcro-like molecules on their surfaces called integrins. In recent years, researchers have discovered that integrins help cancer cells to escape tumors and settle elsewhere in the body. So an important question in cancer research is how to block integrins so they stop cancer cells from moving and spreading.
An international research study published in the journal Cell Reports, led by the University of Sydney in Australia has identified that "bad" cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL) as an important culprit in metastasis. The researchers discovered that integrins can move from the surface of cells to the inside, and that cholesterol, one of the major lipids in the body, is needed to keep integrins on the surface of cancer cells. But the underlying mechanisms, until now, have been somewhat unclear.
Thomas Grewal, a senior author of this latest study and an associate professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at Sydney, says they found high levels of "bad" cholesterol seem to help the integrins in cancer cells to move around, and in contrast, high levels of 'good' (high density lipoprotein or HDL) cholesterol seem to keep the integrins inside cells.
Knowing "how to manipulate and lower 'bad' cholesterol could significantly help to reduce the ability of cancer cells to spread," says Prof. Grewal, who with co-senior author Carlos Enrich, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Barcelona in Spain, has been working on the link between cholesterol and cancer for 15 years.