A team from the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) has found an explanation of why liver cancer, which affects more than a million people every year around the world, affects more men than women. The key lies in adiponectin, a hormone produced by adipose tissue and generated in greater quantities in women, and which protects the liver from the development of the main liver tumor: hepatocellular carcinoma. The results open the possibility of two new treatments.
Using a group of healthy subjects, the team led by Guadalupe Sabio identified that this hormone is more abundant in women and in thin people. Their goal is to better understand the reasons of why people with obesity are more likely to develop liver cancer.
“The levels of this hormone in the blood decrease in patients with obesity and in men after puberty, just the two populations in which liver cancer is more frequent. That is why we decided to study this phenomenon thoroughly,” explains Sabio.
Study in mice
To check the direct effect of this hormone, female mice that did not produce adiponectin were used; and the researchers found that the growth of liver cancer was equal to that of males. The results are published today in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
“We focus on studying the effect of testosterone on adipose tissue to better understand the mechanism by which fat controls the growth of tumors in the liver,” says Leticia Herrera-Melle, another author of the study and CNIC researcher. Thanks to these studies, “we showed that testosterone is the cause of fat releasing less adiponectin into the blood.”
The results, Guadalupe Sabio adds, “open up the possibility of two new treatments against cancer for which there is currently no treatment: the first would be through adiponectin itself, and the second through metformin, a diabetes drug that it is known activates the same anticancer protein in the liver as the hormone in this study.”