Food protein linked to cancer spread

"This is a very promising lead and one of the very few instances where there is a scientific rationale for a dietary modification influencing cancer", the study's lead author, Greg Hannon, told The Guardian.

"This is a rare sub type of breast cancer called triple-negative breast cancer so it does not apply to all breast cancers and of course it is a mouse model so we can't really say the same is true for humans".

If further research confirms these findings in human cells, limits on the asparagine consumption of cancer patients could reinforce existing therapies and help prevent the spread of breast cancer.

Slashing intake of asparagine - a nutrient found in these foods - reduced the invading power of diseased cells in mice. The growth of their tumors had slowed dramatically. Ironically, the drug L-asparaginase relies heavily on asparagine and is now used to treat leukemia in people. L-asparaginase acts by inhibiting the production of the amino acid asparagine in the body.

In future, the scientists believe that alongside conventional treatments like chemotherapy, breast cancer patients could be given a diet in hospital that restricts asparagine to help stop the disease spreading and improve outcomes.

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"This study may have implications not only for breast cancer, but for many metastatic cancers", added Ravi Thadhani, from the varsity.

"Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread", says Prof. It's possible that in future, this drug could be re-purposed to help treat breast cancer patients. This happens the way that the cancer cells leave the first most tumors and hit bloodstream settling and developing in other surrounding organs.

Asparagine is a building block for proteins made in the body but is also a compound found in dairy, whey, beef, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains.

"This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease".

As their next step, the researchers are interested in setting up an early-phase clinical trial that would allow them to understand how diet affects the levels of asparagine in the body.

  • Myrtle Hill