Bad cholesterol fuels the growth of the commonest type of brain cancer, glioblastoma, just as hormones drive the growth of certain breast and prostate cancers.
Glioblastomas are also the most aggressive and difficult to treat, with an average survival rate of 15 months from diagnosis.
US scientists say the finding will pave the way for developing drugs that will target them specifically. They found that up to 90 percent of glioblastomas have a “hyperactive signalling pathway” for cholesterol, reports the journal Cancer Discovery.
This implies their cells are programmed to suck up LDL or bad cholesterol, which feeds tumour growth in turn, the Telegraph reports.
Deliang Guo, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Ohio State University who led the study, said: “Our research shows that the tumour cells depend on large amounts of cholesterol for growth and survival.”
“Pharmacologically depriving tumour cells of cholesterol may offer a novel therapeutic strategy to treat glioblastoma,” added Guo.
Paul Mischel, professor of pathology at the Jonsson Cancer Center, University of California-Los Angeles, added: “It potentially offers a strategy for blocking that mechanism and causing specific tumour-cell death without significant toxicity.”
In Britain, of about 5,000 people diagnosed with brain cancer, 3,600 die annually.