New Research Suggests That Food Can Fuel or Inhibit Cancer Growth

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Mice with intensive forms of breast cancer which would have seen them die within weeks were given low-asparagine diets or else were treated with drugs that blocked the absorption of the nutrient.

The amino acid - a building block of proteins - can be produced by every cell in the human body, including cancer cells, or absorbed from foods such as beef, dairy, poultry, seafood, asparagus and soy.

The amino acid Asparagine, found in asparagus, has been linked with cancer tumour growth.

Leading author of the study, Professor Greg Hannon said in a statement that, "Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread".

Scientists hope the research is another step in further establishing the link between food and cancer for improving treatments.

The findings also suggest this could have implications for other cancer types, including kidney, and head and neck. "When the availability of asparagine was reduced, we saw little impact on the primary tumor in the breast, but tumor cells had reduced capacity for metastases in other parts of the body".

Dr George Poulogiannis, Dr Michel Wagner and PhD student Marc Olivier Turgeon worked on the research that took place at the ICR.

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The researchers also found that metastasis was greatly limited by reducing asparagine synthetase.

"This is interesting research looking at how cutting off the supply of nutrients essential to cancer's spread could help restrain tumours".

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". ER-positive breast cancer, diagnosed in two-thirds of breast cancer patients, is fueled by the presence of estrogen in the body.

Prof Keqiang Ye, a cancer researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, said that lowering asparagine levels, either with drugs or dietary restriction, would help prevent cancer cells from spreading.

"It's important for patients to speak to their doctor before making any changes to their diet while having treatment".

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