Across many cancer types, obese patients fare worse than leaner patients. Now a University of Colorado Cancer Center study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell offers a compelling hypothesis why: researchers found that leukemia stem cells “hide” in fatty tissue, even transforming this tissue in ways that support their survival when challenged with chemotherapy. It is as if leukemia stem cells not only use fatty tissue as a robbers’ cave to hide from therapy, but actively adapt this cave to their liking.
“It’s been increasingly appreciated that cancer can originate in stem cells and that failing to kill cancer stem cells can lead to relapse. Researchers have also come to appreciate the importance of surrounding tissues – the ‘niche’ or tumor microenvironment — in supporting cancer stem cells. In leukemia, the obvious niche is the bone marrow, but little attention has been paid to other sites in the body. This study is one of the first to evaluate adipose tissue, fat, as a possible tumor-supporting niche,” says Craig Jordan, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and Nancy Carroll Allen Professor of Hematology in the CU Department of Medicine.