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Lipid Profile May Signal Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk

Aug 21, 2023, 16:15 PM by Nyla Sauter

While 93% of breast cancer patients survive 10 years, that rate falls to 27% when the cancer comes back and just 7% if it metastasizes. Researchers hope lipid pathways can serve as biomarkers of recurrence risk and perhaps even treatment. 

Susanne Wells, PhD (left) with Susan Waltz, PhD (right)

It’s long been known that lipids are essential contributing factors to cardiovascular disease and, as a result, more than 60% of Americans over the age of 60 take a cholesterol-lowering medication. Now, two researchers at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center are looking at how these same metabolites are involved in breast cancer recurrence. 

“The area of lipids has been understudied because they are hard to detect,” says Susanne Wells, PhD, a basic science researcher at the Cancer Center and director of the Epithelial Carcinogenesis and Stem Cell Program at Cincinnati Children’s. “We got curious because this field is so ripe for exploitation as markers and as targets.” 

Wells and Susan Waltz, PhD, associate director for cancer research training and education coordination at the Cancer Center, have identified what they believe to be key lipid pathways in breast cancer recurrence and the genes that regulate these pathways. The duo believes that these genes can serve as biomarkers for recurrence, and that lipids could be a potential target for new therapies. 

“We can use metabolic pathways to understand how we might be able to better treat cancer patients so that they’re less susceptible to breast cancer recurrence,” Waltz says. “It could be dietary; it could be different ways of treating patients, compared to the toxic drugs that we give patients now.” 

The idea to research lipids as a biomarker and potential treatment for recurrent breast cancer didn’t happen overnight. Wells and Waltz and their teams have been collaborating for 15 years to study the impact of Ron and DEK genes on breast cancer. Their work has shown that both oncogenes are independently associated with breast cancer recurrence and poor overall survival. 

Targeting these genes, however, was proving elusive, so the researchers began looking at their role in breast cancer metabolites. “The science was telling us to go in that direction,” Waltz says. The team identified the enzymes involved in regulating those metabolites and then looked deeper at lipids specifically. 

To conduct the lipid research, which is now being considered for a patent before the work will be published, they partnered with NMR spectroscopy experts Sara Vicente-Muñoz, PhD, at the NMR-based Metabolomics Core at Cincinnati Children’s, and Andrew Lane, PhD, at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.