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LSU Health New Orleans Describes a Causal Mechanism of Link Between Cancer and Obesity

May 27, 2021

obesity-induced inflammation figure

A review study led by Maria D. Sanchez-Pino, PhD, an assistant research professor in the departments of Interdisciplinary Oncology and Genetics at LSU Health New Orleans’ School of Medicine and Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, advances knowledge about the connection between obesity-associated inflammation and cancer. The researchers suggest that inflammatory cells with immunosuppressive properties may act as a critical biological link between obesity and cancer risk, progression, and metastasis. The paper is published in the June 2021 issue of Obesity, available here.

Despite evidence showing that obesity increases the risk of cancer progression, efforts are needed to identify the causal relationship between immunosuppressive cells and the response of immunotherapy in patients with obesity.

The function of myeloid cells is shaped by the metabolic microenvironment. Along with macrophages, myeloid cells with immunosuppressive properties called Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) are generated in obesity. One of the major factors associated with the metabolic inflammation of obesity is the expansion of MDSCs. In cancer patients, MDSCs are associated with poor survival and resistance to immunotherapy.

Although there is tremendous cross-talk between inflammation and metabolic/endocrine disturbances that promote tumor growth in obesity, the biological and molecular mechanisms are not completely understood. The researchers reviewed the literature and explain that altered metabolic factors such as lipids, insulin, and leptin in obesity contribute to the activation of immunosuppressive and cancer developing capabilities of myeloid cells.

“Deciphering the molecular mechanisms by which obesity-associated metabolic factors activate or enhance the function of Myeloid-derived Suppressor Cells and immunosuppressive macrophages will allow us to identify biomarkers for prognosis and therapeutic responses,” notes Dr. Sanchez-Pino. “It will also lead to the discovery of potential targets for pharmacological therapies that may disrupt the pathophysiologic inflammatory link between obesity and cancer.”

Co-authors include Dr. Augusto Ochoa, Director of the LSU Health New Orleans Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Dr. Justin Brown of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and member of the LSU Health New Orleans Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, and Dr. Linda Anne Gilmore of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health -- National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institute of General Medicine Sciences, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Cancer Institute -- Nutrition Obesity Research Center at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LSU Health New Orleans, and Susan G. Komen Foundation.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans (LSU Health New Orleans) educates Louisiana's health care professionals. The state's health sciences university leader, LSU Health New Orleans includes a School of Medicine with branch campuses in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, the state's only School of Dentistry, Louisiana's only public School of Public Health, and Schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, and Graduate Studies. LSU Health New Orleans faculty take care of patients in public and private hospitals and clinics throughout the region. In the vanguard of biosciences research, the LSU Health New Orleans research enterprise generates jobs and enormous annual economic impact. LSU Health New Orleans faculty have made lifesaving discoveries and continue to work to prevent, advance treatment or cure disease. To learn more, visit,, or

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