Sydney Pharmacy researchers discover ‘bad’ cholesterol contributes to cancer spread

In a world-first, University of Sydney researchers have discovered one of the main reasons behind why cancer spreads throughout the body—the help of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Published in top international journal, Cell Reports, the research found ‘bad’ cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or LDL) regulates the machinery that controls cell migration, a major finding in the search to explain why cancer spreads throughout the body.

University of Sydney Pharmacy School
Study at the Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy

Paper senior author, Associate Professor Thomas Grewal from the Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy, said the research had important implications for cancer research.

“One of the things that makes 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 neighbouring cells through the help of ‘Velcro-like’ molecules on their surface known as integrins. Unfortunately, integrins also help cancer cells that have broken away from a cancerous tumour 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 seem to help the integrins in cancer cells to move and spread.

“In contrast, we found that high levels of ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol keeps integrins inside cells and may therefore protect against cancer cell spread.”

Sydney Pharmacy researchers have extensively examined how integrins can move to the inside of cells. Most interestingly, out of several novel therapeutic opportunities, cholesterol, one of the major lipids in our body, is needed to keep integrins on the cell surface of cancer cells; however, up to now it was unclear where this cholesterol was coming from and how one could manipulate this to treat cancer.

“Our findings contribute to the debate that cholesterol levels may be associated with cancer incidence,” Associate Professor 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.”

Associate Professor Grewal of Sydney Pharmacy has been collaborating with Professor Carlos Enrich from the University of Barcelona (Faculty of Medicine) in Spain for 15 years on the link between cancer and cholesterol.

Research at the University of Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy

Research at the Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy is structured around five themes that closely reflect the Australian Government’s health priorities. These are cancer, cardiovascular and diabetes, health services and patient safety, mental health and respiratory disease.

Sydney Faculty of Pharmacy’s internationally renowned researchers are experts in a broad spectrum of pharmaceutical and clinical sciences, including the design, synthesis, testing and mechanism of action of drugs, studies on advanced drug delivery, investigation of the fate of drugs in humans including pharmacogenomics and other aspects of drug disposition, and research on the clinical and sociological aspects of pharmacy and health services research.

Bachelor of Pharmacy Program at the University of Sydney

The Bachelor of Pharmacy requires four years of full-time study. There are two semesters and one entry period per year. Major topics studied include chemical, physical, pharmaceutical and pharmacological properties of medicines and the application of these in the practice of pharmacy.

Program: Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: February
Duration: 4 years
Application deadline: The application deadline for this program is generally the last working day of September.

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