Galectin-3, New Super-Marker for Trouble

January 01, 2013

Galectin-3   New Super Marker for Cancer 

 ReferenceCancer Letters, (2011) Newlaczyl  p 123-128 

 Ever heard of galectins?  You will.  And you got it here first.  They are very interesting little proteins that usually are in the nucleus, mitochondria, and inner cell systems of your cell.  They have a region on them that recognizes sugar molecules of various kinds.  They are in the “lectin” family of chemicals.   That little stretch of DNA that codes for that recognition has been incredibly preserved throughout nature from the very highest to the very lowest of organisms.  

This means their basic biology is intrinsic to very life itself.   Something changes as we develop cancer.   Galectins start showing up on the surface instead of deep inside the cell.  They play a very important role in cancer cell growth, transformation, apoptosis, angiogenesis, adhesion, invasion, and metastasis.   Whoa!  That means they are part of how we get cancer – beginning to end.   When they emerge on the outside, galectins seem to be are the little protective shields on the first tiny cancer colony that surrounds the cancer cells and allows them to escape detection by the immune system.  

In effect, they are the trench coat and the fedora hat on the spy.  That way the cancer colony can grow undisturbed by your immune system that comes along and recognizes that little bundle of cells as “self” instead of “non-self”.  But they are even more insidious than that.  They are also the rope and the hook that allow the spy to through their rope over a wall and scale into the inner sanctum.  Galectins also help cancer cells to stick and invade new places, all the while protecting them from being discovered.   

Cancer doesn’t just start overnight.  It starts, very likely, in early childhood.  At least we can trace risks to childhood.  We know that we can find colonies of cells in midlife that do not progress on to disease if we live “healthy” lifestyles.  Much of what is defined as healthy comes down to what you already know and understand like avoiding sugar, getting good exercise, controlling your weight, and your diabetes. 

 What makes galectins interesting is that they have now been approved as a test.  Labcorp is now running the test and most hospitals have the ability to test it.  Here is where it fits with cancer.   Folks in the top quintile (fifth) of range have triple the mortality of folks in the bottom.  It has been approved for congestive heart failure and diabetes too.  As opposed to CRP, galectin-3 is not an observer, it is the culprit.  When you measure it, you are measuring real, direct, risk.  This is really interesting. 

 WWW.  What will work for me?  This test will be part of my dashboard of data.  And what makes it even more compelling is that you can alter it and modulate it by what you eat. That will be next week when we talk about orange peels.   That means when you make those “healthy” lifestyle choices, we have the potential to gauge just how effective your efforts are being, other than losing a pound or two of weight.

Column written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI