A common amino acid produced in the human body or absorbed from food can be suppressed to stop breast cancer spread in mice, researchers reported Wednesday.
Most breast cancer patients do not die from their primary tumour, but from the spread of cancer to the lungs, brain, bones, or other organs.
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". The mice develop secondary tumours in a matter of weeks and tend to die from the disease within months. To cite an example for some early stage breast cancer patients, surgery might be the first stepping stone but that may not be the choice for the stage 4 breast cancer. To a lesser extent, by putting the animals on a low-asparagine diet worked too.
"Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread".
"These exciting findings provide the foundation for research into an entirely new type of cancer treatment that targets the metabolism of tumour cells to control their growth and spread".
United Kingdom researchers have discovered a nutrient in everyday foods can determine a cancer's growth and expansion.
Further analysis revealed people with a less active asparagine-producing gene had better survival rates for cancer of the breast, kidney, head and neck.
Could an asparagine-restricted diet help stop tumour spread in cancer patients?
Asparagine takes its name from the vegetable asparagus and is an amino acid. L-asparagine breaks the amino acid down in the bloodstream, but more targeted drugs could block its production altogether.
"The study results are extremely suggestive that changes in diet might impact both how an individual responds to primary therapy and their chances of lethal disease spreading later in life", said senior author Gregory Hannon of the University of Cambridge in England.
Researchers are now considering human trials to assess the impact of reducing dietary intake of asparagine. But for patients, he said that drug treatments held more promise than changes to their diets.
These include asparagus, seafood, soy, egg, nuts and beef.
Whole grains such as wheat, rye, oats, rice, corn, bulgur and barley, along with green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, endives, beet greens and romaine, as well as fruit are known to contain phytochemicals with antioxidant, antiestrogen and chemopreventive properties that may prevent cancer.