Researchers at the University of Leuven (UCLouvain), in Belgium, have proven that 3D tumors disintegrate in a few days thanks to the action of an acquaintance Omega 3. As published in the journal ‘Cell Metabolism’, specifically it would be DHA, present above all in fish.
The team has found that fatty acid-starved, acidosis tumor cells ‘devour’ DHA. But they are unable to store it properly and literally poison themselves and die as a result.
The so-called good fatty acids are essential for human health and highly sought after by those trying to eat healthy. Among the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is crucial for brain function, vision and the regulation of inflammatory phenomena.
In addition to these virtues, DHA is also associated with a reduction in the incidence of cancer. Its operation is the subject of an important discovery by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Leuven. You have just elucidated the biochemical mechanism that enables DHA and other related fatty acids to slow down tumor development.
Results of the study with different fatty acids such as omega-3
In 2016, Olivier Feron’s team at UCLouvain, specialized in oncology, discovered that cells in an acidic microenvironment (acidosis) within tumors substitute lipids for glucose as a source of energy to multiply. In collaboration with Cyril Corbet from UCLouvain, Professor Feron showed in 2020 that these same cells are the most aggressive. And they acquire the ability to leave the original tumor to generate metastases.
For his part, Yvan Larondelle, professor at the Faculty of Bioengineering at UCLouvain, proposed to Professor Feron to combine his knowledge in a research project. Led by PhD Candidate Emeline Dierge. Its objective was to evaluate the behavior of tumor cells in the presence of different fatty acids.
Thanks to the support of the Leuven Foundation, the Belgian Cancer Foundation and the Télévie telethon, the team quickly identified that these acidotic tumor cells responded in a certain way. In a diametrically opposite way depending on the fatty acid they absorbed.
In a few weeks, the results were as impressive as they were surprising, they say. “We soon discovered that certain fatty acids stimulated tumor cells while others killed them,” the researchers explained. Since DHA literally poisons them.
The venom acts on tumor cells through a phenomenon called ferroptosis. A type of cell death linked to the peroxidation of certain fatty acids. The greater the amount of unsaturated fatty acids in the cell, the greater the risk of their oxidation.
Normally, in the acid compartment of tumors, cells store these fatty acids in lipid droplets. A kind of package in which the fatty acids are protected from oxidation. But in the presence of a large amount of DHA, the tumor cell is overwhelmed and cannot store DHA. That oxidizes and causes cell death.
For an adult it is recommended to consume at least 250 mg per day of DHA
For their study, the UCLouvain researchers used a 3D tumor cell culture system called spheroids. In the presence of DHA, the spheroids grow first and then implode. The team also administered a DHA-enriched diet to tumor-bearing mice. The result was that the development of tumors was significantly slowed compared to mice on a conventional diet.
This UCLouvain study demonstrates the value of DHA in fighting cancer. The UCLouvain researchers state that, for an adult, it is recommended to consume at least 250 mg of DHA per day. But studies show that our diet only provides an average of 50 to 100 mg a day and this is well below the minimum recommended intake.