This week Dr. Kathryn E. Meier, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Dean for Graduate Education, Washington State University College of Pharmacy, and her collaborators released study results in which they found that a drug mimicking the action of omega 3s can work as well or better than fatty acids in suppressing cancer cells. The study entitled, “Omega-3 fatty acids and other FFA4 agonists inhibit growth factor signaling in human prostate cancer cells,” was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): called “essential” because the body can’t make these needed nutritional components and must digest them. There are two known EFAs: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)
- Omega-3 fatty acid (n-3 FAs): Three fatty acids compose the omega-3 family: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in English walnuts, in some types of beans, and in canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, and olive oils. The other 2, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are found in fish, including fish oil and supplements.
- Cell lines: a population of cells derived from a single cell and containing the same genetic makeup that are used in many scientific experiments.
- Cell culture serum: is a complex organic solution containing proteins, polypeptides, growth factors, amino acids, nucleosides, lipids, carbohydrates, hormones, vitamins and other components to provide nutrients to experimental cell lines.
The scientific community is in agreement on the anti-inflammatory properties of n-3 FAs, and its link to lowering risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease, depression, and autoimmune diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
That same agreement does not apply when studying the impact of n-3 FAs on cancers that are linked to inflammation, such as prostate cancer. This is due to the conflicting results observed among different studies investigating this relationship. Furthermore, the current research in the area has yet to elucidate the exact beneficial mechanism n-3 FAs may have in inhibiting cancer growth.
About the Study:
In an attempt to uncover this possible mechanism, Dr. Meier and her team examined the effects of n-3 FAs on prostate cancer cell lines. They added n-3 FAs to serum starved cells at different time intervals. The experimental results indicated that activation of FFA4 initiates signaling events that can inhibit growth factor-induced signaling, providing a new avenue for suppression of cancer cell proliferation.
In a statement concerning the importance of the results, Dr. Meier said, “This kind of knowledge could lead us to better treat or prevent cancer because now we know how it works.”
When discussing how these findings relate to dietary supplementation with fish oil, Dr. Meier explained, “It is still unclear if the effect can be obtained by taking dietary supplements like fish oil. Some people don’t tolerate fish oil very well. Moreover, the effect of fish oil could fade as it is digested, while data from this study suggest that an omega-3 drug needs to be in a cancer cell all the time to have an effect.”
Dr. Meier continued, “It’s very difficult in dietary studies to tell how much to take or what form to take. Should you be eating fish? Should you be taking pills? But now we have a potential drug. Once you have a drug you can test very precisely whether it works or not in a certain disease and you would know exactly how much to give people.”