The laboratory of Dr. Edward Medina at The University of Texas Health Science Center is adding to the pool of knowledge that obesity may be the foundation for a number of disease conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Most recently, Dr. Medina has demonstrated that obesity increases the risk of myeloma. “I’m predicting an increase in multiple myeloma, and with the obesity problems we see in the Hispanic population, there could be a serious health disparity on the horizon,” said Dr. Medina.
Dr. Medina is a hematopathologist who is quite knowledgeable of multiple myeloma, a disease in which plasma cells in the bone marrow produce high levels of abnormal antibodies and crowd out other blood cell types. “They basically overtake the bone marrow,” said Dr. Medina. Multiple myeloma culminates in bone pain and fragility, confusion, excessive thirst, and kidney failure. Most patients do not live more than five years past diagnosis, but survival rates have improved in recent years. Dr. Medina hopes to further increase this statistic, and his most recent work published in Leukemia describes a potential way to boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments for multiple myeloma and help the body heal itself.
The study focused on the protein adiponectin, a cytokine produced by adipocytes that plays a role in killing cancer cells. Paradoxically, adiponectin production by adipocytes decreases in obese people; this decrease halts the protein kinase A (PKA)/AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)/apoptosis pathway in cancer cells. Adding to this problem is the increase in fatty acid production by adipocytes. “Synthesizing fatty acids is important for myeloma cells to build vital structures, including cell membranes, that enable them to keep growing,” explained Dr. Medina.
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Dr. Medina’s research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.