Exposure to cold inhibits cancer growth in mice: study

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

August 4, 2022 -- The exposure of tumor-bearing mice to cold conditions markedly inhibited the growth of various types of solid tumors, according to a new study by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet.

The study, published August 3 in the journal Nature, compared tumor growth and survival rates in mice with various types of cancer, including colorectal, breast, and pancreatic cancers, when exposed to cold versus warm living conditions.

Cancer cells typically need large amounts of glucose to grow. The researchers in their study discovered that cold temperatures triggered significant glucose uptake in brown adipose tissue (brown fat), which keeps the body warm during cold conditions, while the glucose signals were barely detectable in the tumor cells.

"We found that cold-activated brown adipose tissue competes against tumors for glucose and can help inhibit tumor growth in mice," Dr. Yihai Cao, PhD, corresponding author and professor in the department of microbiology, tumor, and cell biology at Karolinska Institutet, said in a statement.

The researchers in a pilot study also recruited six healthy adults and one cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. Using imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography, they showed that the glucose uptake in the brown fat increased in the cancer patient, while the glucose signals from the tumor cells decreased at the lower compared to the higher temperature.

"Our findings suggest that cold exposure could be a promising novel approach to cancer therapy, although this needs to be validated in larger clinical studies," Cao said.

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