Investigators found that by limiting an amino acid called asparagine in laboratory mice with triple-negative breast cancer, they could dramatically reduce the ability of the cancer to travel to distant sites in the body. If the diet results in decreased levels of asparagine, the next scientific step would involve a clinical trial with cancer patients.
"We first identified this change in a patient who had ER-positive breast cancer, received anti-estrogen therapy, had her breast cancer recur and eventually passed away from the disease", said senior author Adrian Lee, Ph.D., director of the Women's Cancer Research Center at MWRI and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and professor of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology at the University of Pittsburgh. "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".
'This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease'.
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The researchers also found that metastasis was greatly limited by reducing asparagine synthetase, treatment with the chemotherapy drug L-asparaginase, or dietary restriction.
Dr George Poulogiannis, Dr Michel Wagner and PhD student Marc Olivier Turgeon worked on the research that took place at the ICR. As per the study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in May 2017, the five year comparative survival rate for patients with metastatic breast cancer magnified between 1992 to 1994 and 2005 to 2012, increasing from 18 percent to 36 percent.
How did researchers stop it from spreading?
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, told the BBC: "Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine".
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Studying the effects of asparagine also could alter treatments for other types of cancer, investigators say.
Breast cancer experts do not recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors.
"Research like this is crucial to help develop better treatments for breast cancer patients".
But Martin Ledwick, from Cancer Research UK, said: "At the moment, there is no evidence that restricting certain foods can help fight cancer".
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