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Growing Freely

The role of an enzyme common to many tumours revealed

03 December 2019

Growing Freely

High levels of a protein complex called fatty acid synthase (FASN) are a common feature of many cancers, but its role was unclear, until researchers working on breast cancer in mice suggested an explanation. Pictured is a slice through some mouse mammary tissue, with healthy mammary ducts (in blue) and areas rich in FASN (in dark red), where tumours grow. While FASN’s main function, making fat components known as fatty acids, is not critical here, it does play another role. Cancer cells have a unique ability to keep growing even when they have detached from surrounding tissues, but doing so produces many dangerous reactive chemicals containing oxygen or reactive oxygen species (ROS). Chemical reactions facilitated by FASN consume these ROS, supporting the unanchored growth of cancer cells, essential for initial tumour formation. As most tissues acquire enough fatty acids from diet alone, FASN could possibly be targeted by preventative treatments to inhibit early tumour development.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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