News Release: Research, School of Medicine, Winship Cancer Institute

Jun. 15,  2009

Hormone from Fat Cells Could Fight Breast Cancer

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A "guardian angel" hormone produced by fat cells could become a tool to fight breast cancer. Scientists at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute have discovered that adiponectin, which is produced by fat cells, can reduce breast cancer cells' ability to migrate and invade other tissues.   

Their results were published online June 1 preceding print publication in the journal Oncogene.

A future treatment strategy may be to use "adiponectin analogues" that can mimic adiponectin's effects or maximize the effects of what the body already produces, says senior author Dipali Sharma, PhD, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology at Emory Winship.  

Fat cells make up most of the breast tissue, and some of the hormones produced by fat cells can have tumor-stimulating effects. Previous studies have shown that women with high body mass index (highest fifth) have double the death rate from breast cancer compared to those in the lowest fifth.  

However, not all hormones produced by fat cells have negative effects. Adiponectin appears to protect against the effects of obesity on metabolism, the heart and blood vessels, Sharma and her co-authors note.

In addition, several studies have shown that low adiponectin levels in the blood are linked with increased risk of breast cancer and more aggressive breast tumors.  

The class of anti-diabetic drugs known as thiazolidinediones has been shown to turn on adiponectin, so they represent one possible option for breast cancer treatment, Sharma says. However, they have a complicated set of side effects on bones, the liver and heart, and fluid retention. Another option may be to administer adiponectin itself or a related protein known as osmotin.

Working with Sharma and Neeraj Saxena, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Emory, postdoctoral fellow LaTonia Taliaferro-Smith found that adiponectin's effects derive from its ability to turn on a tumor suppressor gene called LKB1.

L. Taliaferro-Smith, A. Nagalingam, D. Zhong, W. Zhou, N.K. Saxena and D. Sharma. LKB1 is required for adiponectin-mediated modulation of AMPK-S6K axis and inhibition of migration and invasion of breast cancer cells. Oncogene (2009).


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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