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Cutting cancer's food supply

By Matthew Wiencke

Research led by William Kinlaw was recently put to the test in a clinical trial.

William Kinlaw, a Geisel professor of medicine, has been exploring new ways to prevent cancer cells from making the fat they need to grow and spread.

Working with several other researchers, Kinlaw recently completed a clinical trial that shows how treatment with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)—a dietary supplement that is sold in health-food stores and used for weight loss—targets key genes involved in fatty acid synthesis, which may significantly reduce the growth of invasive breast cancer tumors. The results of the trial were published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. According to Kinlaw, this is the first clinical trial to use conjugated linoleic acid as a cancer therapy in patients.

The researchers enrolled 24 women with stage I to stage III breast cancer. All the women took CLA during the 10 to 12 day period between the time they had a biopsy and surgery. The researchers examined biopsy tissue samples (pre-CLA) and surgically removed tissue samples (post-CLA).

The most significant finding was that a gene named Spot-14—which cancer cells use to get the fatty acids they need to survive—was suppressed in the patients' tumors after taking CLA for 10 to 12 days. CLA also suppressed Ki-67, a protein found in the nucleus of cancer cells that is commonly used as an indicator of the aggressiveness of a tumor. The reduction of Ki-67 levels seems to indicate that the tumors were becoming less aggressive.

Kinlaw was encouraged by the findings. "I think CLA is probably not going to end up being a drug itself," he says, "but it certainly could be a prototype, and this study is a proof of principle that targeting these pathways in human tumors might be a useful thing to do."


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Geisel School of Medicine at DartmouthDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College