New Research Suggests That Food Can Fuel or Inhibit Cancer Growth
New animal research published in the journal, Nature, suggests that food can either fuel or inhibit the spread of cancer. This is due to the amino acid composition of foods because certain cancers appear to thrive on specific amino acids.
The study was conducted on mice with an aggressive form of cancer at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. Normally the mice would only be expected to live several weeks as the tumor spread. However, the mice were given either a low-asparagine diet or drugs to block the amino acid found in the asparagus for which it is named. The change resulted in a miraculous inhibition of the tumor’s ability to grow.
Lymphoma and Intestinal Cancers
Only last year, the University of Glasgow’s research showed that removing the amino acids, serine and glycine, resulted in the slowed progression of lymphoma and intestinal cancers. Professor Hannon told BBC: “We’re seeing increasing evidence that specific cancers are addicted to specific components of our diet. In the future, by modifying a patient’s diet or by using drugs that change the way that tumor cells can access these nutrients we hope to improve outcomes in therapy.”
The restricted diet made some cancer cells, known as oxygen reactive species, more vulnerable to chemicals which occur in chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Perhaps further research will show if the connection between asparaginase and cancer will make these treatments more effective in the future.
A tumor must grow through a rather complex process to become deadly and metastasized. First, it must develop a means of breaking away from the mother tumor. Secondly, it must learn how to survive in the bloodstream alone. Thirdly, it must adapt to thrive elsewhere in the body.
Researchers are beginning to suspect that asparagine plays a vital role in this process. Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, stated: “Interestlingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is dependent on asparagine. It’s possible that in future, this drug could be repurposed to help treat breast cancer patients.”
Researchers know that further study and trials are needed to understand this phenomenon more clearly. Experts do not recommend the removal of foods from the diet containing asparaginase because it can be very difficult to do, and the findings of this study have not yet been confirmed. They do know that not all cancer patients would benefit from this treatment. For example, patients with cancerous tumors who have an activated Kras gene, would not find it as effective. The Kras gene activation is common in patients with pancreatic cancer.
In conclusion, researchers remain hopeful that this discovery may lead to more effective treatment for cancer patients in the future. They hope that a diet whose amino acids were manipulated would be a gentler, less risky option opposed to more drugs for cancer patients. We must hold fast to hope in this era of scientific enlightenment.
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