Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Patients and medical professionals may call 1-800-533-UPMC (8762) for more information.

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Inhibit Growth Of Liver Cancer Cells

Research suggests these fatty acids represent a potentially effective therapy for the prevention and treatment of human liver cancers

PITTSBURGH, April 3, 2006 —Two new studies by a University of Pittsburgh research team suggest that omega-3 fatty acids —substances that are found in high concentrations in fish oils and certain seeds and nuts —significantly inhibit the growth of liver cancer cells. The studies, presented today at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective therapy for both the treatment and prevention of human liver cancers.

The first study, Abstract number 2679, looked at the effect and mechanism of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells. Hepatocellular carcinoma accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all liver cancers and is usually fatal within three to six months of diagnosis.

“It has been known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit certain cancer cells. So, we were interested in determining whether these substances could inhibit liver cancer cells. If so, we also wanted to know by what mechanism this inhibition occurs,” said Tong Wu, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the division of transplantation pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in whose laboratory the research was conducted.

The investigators treated the hepatocellular carcinoma cells with either the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA), for 12 to 48 hours. DHA and EPA treatment resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of cell growth, whereas AA treatment exhibited no significant effect.

According to the investigators, the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on cancer cells likely is due to the induction of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Indeed, the investigators found that DHA treatment induced the splitting up, or cleavage, of an enzyme in the cell nucleus known as poly (ADP-Ribose) polymerase, or PARP, which is involved in repairing DNA damage, mediating apoptosis and regulating immune response. The cleavage of this enzyme is considered a tell-tale indicator of apoptosis. Furthermore, DHA and EPA treatment indirectly decreased the levels of another protein known as beta-catenin, an overabundance of which has been linked to the development of various tumors.

“Beta-catenin is known to promote cell growth and also is implicated in tumor cell promotion. Therefore, our finding that omega-3 fatty acids can decrease levels of beta-catenin is further evidence that these compounds have the ability to interact on several points of pathways involved in tumor progression,” explained Dr. Wu.

In the second study, Abstract number 2680, the investigators treated cholangiocarcinoma tumor cells with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for 12 to 48 hours. Cholangiocarcinoma is a particularly aggressive form of liver cancer that arises in the ducts that carry bile from the liver and has an extremely high mortality rate. Again, the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA treatments resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of cancer cell growth, while the omega-6 fatty acid AA treatment had no significant effect. Likewise, DHA treatment induced a cleavage form of PARP in cholangiocarcinoma cells, and DHA and EPA treatment significantly decreased the level of beta-catenin protein in the cells.

According to Dr. Wu, these findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acids not only may be an effective therapy for the treatment of human liver cancers but may also be a means of protecting the liver from steatohepatitis, a chronic liver disease characterized by the buildup of fat in the liver and believed to be a precursor of hepatocellular carcinoma. The next step in the process, he said, is to test the effects of omega-3 fatty acids in mice harboring human liver tumors.

This work was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute. Kyu Lim, Ph.D., in Dr. Wu’s laboratory performed the major experiments. Other investigators involved in these studies include Chang Han, Ph.D., and Lihong Xu, Ph.D., all from the University of Pittsburgh.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com