Doctors regularly warn patients that obesity is linked to an increased risk of cancer. A study by researchers at MIT has shed some light on how high-fat diets can trigger colon cancer.
The Role of Stem Cells in Colon Cancer
Colon cancer arises from mutations that tend to accumulate among intestinal stem cells, which last a lifetime. Omer Yilmaz, an assistant professor of biology at MIT, led a team that set out to discover the process behind these cellular changes.
For nine months to a year, Yilmaz and his team fed healthy mice a diet composed of 60 percent fat. In addition to gaining up to 50 percent more body mass, these mice developed more intestinal tumors than those on a healthy diet.
Effects of High-Fat Diet on Intestinal Cells
Researchers observed significant changes in the intestinal stem cells of the mice:
- The mice eating a high-fat diet had a higher number of intestinal stem cells. In addition, they were able to operate free of input from niche cells that normally regulate stem cell activity.
- Progenitor cells, which are differentiated “daughters” of stem cells, began to take on characteristics of stem cells, including longer life span and ability to generate mini-intestines outside the body.
Yilmaz is hopeful that, with further investigation, this information will lead to identifying new methods of cancer treatment for obesity-related tumors.
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