The link between obesity and cancer is well-established. In the case of breast cancer, however, Bing Li, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology for the James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville, KY, has proposed a unique theory: A protein secreted by fat cells.
“In our research, we found the fatty acid-binding protein family, especially one member, FABP4, plays a very critical role in the association of obesity and cancer, most specifically breast cancer,” says Li. “We theorize that FABP4 is responsible for the underlying molecular mechanism which promotes obesity-associated breast cancer development.”
Li believes that FABP4 contributes to cancer in two ways: First, FABP4 increases in certain tumor-associated macrophages, which accumulate in tumors to promote tumor growth; Second, FABP4 circulates outside the fat cells in obesity, and the protein promotes breast cancer development through direct interaction with breast cancer cells. Finally, FABP4 in the bloodstream appears to work in multiple mechanisms to fuel interactions between tumor components and fat cells, thereby promoting cancer development.
A better understanding of how FABP4 works both within macrophages and in circulation could provide opportunities to prevent certain breast cancers from progressing. It may also lead to the development of treatment methods that target FABP4 with drugs or specific antibodies.
“Now we are trying to generate some antibodies for this protein, which could be a very effective therapeutic strategy for obesity-associated cancer,” says Li.
Obesity affects hormone levels in women which increases risks of cancers and reproductive issues. To learn more about actionable solutions on how to be proactive about reducing cancer risk in your female patients with obesity, you’re invited to download our free white paper, The Link between Women, Obesity, and Cancer, here.