Page URL:

Stem cell changes link high-fat diet to colon cancer

7 March 2016
Appeared in BioNews 842

A study in mice has shown that a diet high in fat can stimulate the production of stem cells in the intestine, which might then go on to form tumours. The findings could explain the link between obesity and an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Obesity has been associated with an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, including oesophageal, breast and colon cancer, but it is not clear what processes underlie these associations.

Intestinal stem cells are able to differentiate in any of the cell types which make up the lining of the gut. However, since stem cells can reproduce themselves indefinitely, they are thought to be more at risk of developing into cancer cells.

In the study, published in Nature, mice that were on a high-fat diet containing 60 percent fat for nine to 12 months produced many more intestinal stem cells than did the mice in the control group.

The researchers also found that another group of cells, called progenitor cells, which are produced by stem cells, were themselves showing stem-cell characteristics. When the researchers cultured these cells in the laboratory, they were found to be able to develop into mini-intestines.

'This is really important because it's known that stem cells are often the cells in the intestine that acquire the mutations that go on to give rise to tumours,' said Dr Ömer Yilmaz, a cancer biologist at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in Boston, Massachusetts, and a lead author of the study.

'Not only do you have more of the traditional stem cells [on a high-fat diet], but now you have non-stem-cell populations that have the ability to acquire mutations that give rise to tumours,' he said.

The high-fat diet appeared to activate a pathway governed by a fatty-acid sensor called PPAR-delta. This protein acts by allowing cells to burn fat to produce energy, while also turning on several genes that are active in stem cells. When the researchers treated mice with a drug that stimulates PPAR-delta, they found similar effects on gut stem cells as they did during the high-fat diet.

Researchers hope that identifying the involvement of PPAR-delta could be useful in determining the cancer risk of patients who have increased activity in this pathway. Professor Kay Lund, a cell biologist from the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the study, told Nature News: 'It could provide an opportunity to give those patients an earlier intervention.'

Fat mice provide clue to obesity-colon cancer puzzle
Nature News |  2 March 2016
High-fat diet enhances stemness and tumorigenicity of intestinal progenitors
Nature |  3 March 2016
High-fat diet may raise cancer risk by changing gut stem cells
Medical News Today |  3 March 2016
How diet influences colon cancer
MIT News (press release) |  2 March 2016
Why junk food causes bowel cancer: Fatty foods drive 'boom in cells which can later turn into tumours'
Mail Online |  3 March 2016
17 December 2018 - by Martha Henriques 
Two genetic markers linked to an aggressive, treatment-resistant form of colorectal cancer...
12 February 2018 - by Dr Nicoletta Charolidi 
Blocking a single molecule, the amino acid asparagine, can prevent breast cancer spread in mice, according to a new study...
15 January 2018 - by Purvi Shah 
New research has shown a connection between the potential role of gut bacteria having an active role in gene expression and in turn reducing the risk of cancer...
25 January 2016 - by Dr Hannah Somers 
Scientists in the USA have identified a biomarker that could predict which patients with colon cancer might benefit from chemotherapy to prevent recurrences of the disease after surgical treatment....
6 July 2015 - by Paul Waldron 
A new form of obesity and type 2 diabetes that is caused by a mutation in a single gene has been discovered...
23 March 2015 - by Rhys Baker 
Whether or not aspirin reduces a person's risk of bowel cancer could all be down to their genetic make-up, according to a US study...
2 June 2014 - by Alice Plein 
A common genetic mutation linked to childhood obesity also increases the likelihood of becoming overweight in adulthood, scientists have discovered. They found the genetic variation also increases impulsive eating as well as a person's appetite for fatty foods...
24 March 2014 - by Daryl Ramai 
A stool-sample DNA test has detected 92 percent of colon cancers in a large clinical trial, compared to 74 percent picked up by the most commonly used non-invasive test...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.