[A cancer patient rests in a hospital bed. Photo by Christine Gleason via Creative Commons 2.0 & Flickr]
Tumors are master manipulators. They have to be in order to escape human immune systems. Scientists have found evidence that tumors hide by wearing biochemical disguises and some tumors can even recruit turncoat immune cells to their cause.
And now scientists have found evidence that some tumors alter the whole body’s metabolism by “reprogramming” the liver, according to a study in the journal Cell Metabolism. [Full disclosure: I have an accepted an internship position at Cell Press’s media relations office, but I don’t start until January. I conducted the interviews this post is based on prior to accepting the internship.] The consequences of that reprogramming are often deadly.
It’s no secret that many cancer patients waste away. They lose weight, including lean muscle mass. Many lose their appetites, too. Food doesn’t seem to nourish them anymore. They grow weaker. Breathing gets harder. And, too often, they die.
This wasting syndrome is called cachexia.
“The wasting can get so severe in so many patients that it’s estimated to account for 30% of all deaths due to cancer,” explains study co-author Thomas Flint of University of Cambridge. “Lots of people are saying [the cause of death] is the metastasis; it’s this and that, but about 30% of the deaths don’t seem to be directly explained by the tumor.” Continue reading “Cachexia: How Cancer Sabotages Patients’ Metabolism” »
Blaming things on genetics–everything from lateness to diet quirks–is wildly popular these days. However, DNA’s role in your body’s overall destiny has been greatly exaggerated. Sure, DNA is the “master blueprint”, but any one gene from that blueprint can contain instructions for making hundreds or thousands of tiny cell parts. And even so, there are plenty of cell parts that defy the master template.
Proteins–tiny biological machines made from proteins that you eat– are key players in pretty much every biological process that happens. Yet, their behavior remains almost impossible to decipher. Scientists have gotten pretty good at decoding genes and RNA snippets, and tracking a single type of protein is pretty doable. Also, since RNA snippets are templates for building proteins, scientists often use RNA diet to estimate the total number of proteins. But there are thousands of different protein forms in every cell; tracking all of them at once remains basically impossible.
However, variations in those proteins can make an enormous difference in processes like weight gain. And according to a new study, our most-used method for estimating protein numbers–counting the RNAs–only works about 30% of the time.
As in, according to science’s latest numbers, at least 2/3rds of all “genetic bad luck” happens outside of genes.
Continue reading “Why You Can Blame Your Metabolism on Liver Proteomics Instead of Your Genes” »