Key ingredient of chocolate spreads, biscuits and cakes found to make cancers more aggressive

Palm oil, used in chocolate spreads, cookies and cakes, fuels cancer, new researchers warn.

The vegetable fat changes the DNA of tumors – which makes them more aggressive, say scientists.

Now a drug has been developed that reverses the process and offers hope of destroying various types of the disease.

Senior writer Professor Salvador Aznar-Benitah of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology said, “If things continue as planned, we could start the first clinical trial in a few years.

“I’m very excited about this and we are putting a lot of effort into developing the best possible therapy that cancer patients can hopefully benefit from in the near future.”

Palm oil gives Nutella its smooth texture and long shelf life. It’s found in a variety of other products – including bread and margarine.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the World Health Organization previously classified it as more carcinogenic than any other oil.

Now a study has shed new light on the connection – it opens the door to therapies that prevent cancer from migrating to other organs or from metastasizing.

It remains the main cause of death. Most patients can only be treated – and not cured.

Experiments on mice found that palmitic acid, the main saturated fatty acid in palm oil, promoted oral cancer and deadly skin melanomas.

Other fatty acids – omega-9 and omega-6 fats from olive oil and flaxseed – didn’t have the same effect.

None, including palmitic acid, increased the risk of developing cancer at all.

Prof. Aznar-Benitah said, “I think it is too early to determine what type of diet metastatic cancer patients could be on that would slow down the metastatic process.

“However, based on our results, one might think that a diet low in palmitic acid might slow the metastatic process, but much more work is needed to find out.

“We’re not focusing on this line of research. Instead, we focus on new potential therapeutic targets that we could inhibit and that could have real therapeutic benefits for the patient regardless of their diet. “

Fatty acids are the building blocks of fat in our bodies and the food we eat. They also feed tumors – but it was unclear how.

When the diet of the laboratory rodents was supplemented with palmitic acid, the metastases increased. There were long-term effects on the genome as well.

Cancer cells that were briefly exposed to palmitic acid spread quickly – even if they were taken from food.

The study in Nature showed that this “memory” is caused by epigenetic changes in the way our genes work.

They change the function of metastatic cancer cells – so they can form a neural network around the tumor and spread more easily.

By understanding this communication, the team discovered a way to block it.

Antibodies against metastases in a number of cancers are being developed by ONA Therapeutics, a start-up co-founded by Prof. Aznar-Benitah.

The company has secured 30 million euros from private investors. Tests on patients with different types of the disease are scheduled to begin by 2023.

Dr. Helen Rippon, executive director of Worldwide Cancer Research, which partially funded the study, said, “This discovery marks a major breakthrough in our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer and, perhaps more importantly, how we can use this knowledge to explore new avenues go cures for cancer.

“It is estimated that metastases are responsible for 90% of all cancer deaths – that’s around nine million deaths a year worldwide.

“Learning more about what drives the spread of cancer and, more importantly, how to stop it is the right way to reduce these numbers.

“Such discovery research is incredibly exciting because it marks the beginning of a journey that will ultimately lead to saving more lives and spending more time with loved ones.

“We are all excited to see the results of this clinical trial and the future impact these results may have on people with metastatic cancer.”

Nutella maker Ferrero has denied that hazelnut and chocolate spreads pose a cancer risk.

Palm oil is the second main ingredient – after sugar. It is high quality and safe to eat, says the Italian confectionery maker.

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