Attacking liver cancer’s “Achilles’ heel” actually increases the number of tumours

Attempts to block fat production in liver cancer cells has shockingly led to a doubling of the number of tumours. Liver cancer is currently the third largest cause of cancer-related deaths. The most common form of liver cancer is resistant to conventional treatments, with the majority of incidences not being suitable for surgical removal, making it incredibly difficult to treat.

Scientists from the University of Virginia investigated the higher than average production of special cellular-fats found in liver cancer cells. This higher fat production has garnered large interest due to the significant link with poorer patient survival.

Many in the field have felt that the higher production of fats could be liver cancer’s “Achilles’ heel”, and initial tests showed that stopping the fat production of liver cancer cells grown in the lab, caused large amounts of death. This led to the idea that liver cancer cells were producing more cellular-fats to aid their survival.

The original expectation was that blocking fat production would reduce tumour growth. To their shock, the researchers found that when key components of the fat production process were disrupted, the number of tumours growing within their mice doubled.

This has left researchers with the large question, so why are these cells putting so many resources into making these cellular-fats?

Paper: Inhibition of hepatic lipogenesis enhances liver tumorigenesis by increasing antioxidant defence and promoting cell survival — Nature Communications — Nelson & Hoehn 2017

Originally published at on June 23, 2017.