In a new study, researchers found Normal, non-cancerous liver tissue can act like tumor tissue when exposed to a diet high in fat, linking diet and obesity to the development of liver cancer.
This suggests that when the liver is exposed to excess fat, normal tissue could be primed to become cancerous.
The research was conducted by a team at Leuven Center for Cancer Biology.
With global rates of obesity and liver cancer increasing each year, understanding how excess fat availability can drive liver cancer development is important to understand how the disease starts and how it can be treated.
In the study, the team tested the metabolic changes in liver tissue from mice fed a high-fat diet at an early time point when no tumors were present, and a late time point when tumors had formed.
They found that before there were any clues that cancer was developing, the liver tissue used glucose the same way that tumors would.
This high use of glucose is one of the well-known hallmarks of cancer and is known as the Warburg effect.
After finding these early changes to liver tissue, they tested what happens when tumors have fully formed.
One way they measured this was to test sensitivity to glucose, which is usually cleared away quickly by the body but is impaired in obesity-induced diabetics.
The team found mice fed a high-fat diet who had a large tumor burden could remove glucose from their blood as easily as healthy mice despite being diabetic.
They found that that tumor tissue breaks down glucose in a consistent way, regardless of whether the mice were fed high-fat or normal diets.
These findings suggest that when cancer cells develop from normal liver cells, their metabolism consistently increases glucose use.
Since a high-fat diet causes these changes before cancer is present, this may mean that—in a high-fat diet—non-cancer liver tissue could be more likely to become cancerous.
One author of the study is Prof. Sarah-Maria Fendt.
The study is published in Cancer Research.
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