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As society battles with an obesity epidemic, new research from the Edwards group shows how increased body fat contributes to cancer establishment and progression.

Mouse bone marrow adipocytes stained with bodipy, a fluorescent dye that is taken up by lipid droplets.

Multiple myeloma is an incurable haematological cancer associated with the expansion of abnormal plasma cells within the bone marrow and the development of destructive bone disease. In the last couple of decades, bone marrow fat cells (adipocytes) have emerged as having an important role in bone physiology in health and disease. Research from Prof. Claire Edwards’ team at the Botnar Research Centre, and published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, identifies a new mechanism by which myeloma cells alter the bone microenvironment to support disease progression. 

“We have previously shown the importance of diet-induced obesity and low levels of adiponectin, a tumour-suppressive adipokine, in the development of myeloma’ said Claire Edwards. “In this study we show how myeloma cells alter bone marrow adipocytes to regulate production of adiponectin”.  The first author of the study, Dr. Emma Morris, said “We found that in early-stage myeloma the amount of fat in the bones increased and that myeloma cells utilised the molecules the fat cells produce for growth and survival, with TNF-alpha found to be important in the downregulation of adiponectin”.

Myeloma has been described as an obesity-associated cancer with a 20% increased risk of disease progression in obese individuals. As society battles with an obesity epidemic, efforts to understand the contribution of increased body fat to cancer establishment and progression are becoming increasingly important, with growing evidence for a key role of bone marrow adipose tissue in cancers that arise in or metastasise to bone. 

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