Food nutrient linked to tumour growth, study shows

Asparagus leads to spread of breast cancer cells to other organs

Asparagus leads to spread of breast cancer cells to other organsPixabay

A study of lab mice found cutting levels of asparagine "dramatically" reduced the spread of triple-negative breast cancer.

These data indicated that the greater the ability of breast cancer cells to make asparagine, the more likely the disease is to spread.

As well as ingesting it, our body can make asparagine.

Studying the effects of asparagine could also alter treatments for other types of cancer, Ravi Thadhani at Cedars-Sinai Hospital said.

"Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests diet can influence the course of the disease", said one of the first authors of the study, Simon Knott.

If the findings of the study will also prove true to humans, doctors may place breast cancer patients on a low-asparagine diet. "Instead, lowering blood levels of asparagine or blocking the enzyme asparagine synthetase in breast tumor cells might be the best path forward". Ironically, the drug L-asparaginase relies heavily on asparagine and is now used to treat leukemia in people. If so, the future of breast cancer treatment may include low-asparagine diets and L-asparaginase drug therapy on top of traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, especially considering the compound is so prevalent in a wide variety of common foods. The researchers, who published their work Wednesday in the journal Nature, used a number of methods to reduce asparagine levels in the mice, including changes to their diets.

Prof Keqiang Ye, a cancer researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, told the UK's Guardian newspaper that drug treatments held more promise than dietary changes because asparagine is found in so many foods.

"It was a really huge change, [the cancers] were very hard to find", said Greg Hannon, the lead scientist for the study and the director of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

But when the mice were give a diet low in asparagine or drugs to block the nutrient, the tumour struggled to expand. This drug may also be tried in breast cancer patients he said if proven in future clinical trials.

Cancer Research UK's chief clinician Charles Swanton said that further research is required to check whether the findings can be applied in a real-life scenario.

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