A significant amount of research has focused on the role diet plays in the growth and spread of cancer. Some cancers, researchers believe, can be avoided if a healthy diet is adopted. Although mesothelioma is one cancer that can only be prevented by avoiding exposure to asbestos, patients may be able to control its growth by adjusting their diet to eliminate certain amino acids.
According to researchers from the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and the University of Glasgow, when two amino acids, that are considered the building blocks of proteins, were eliminated from the diet of cancerous mice, tumor growth slowed and survival increased. By eliminating the two non-essential amino acids, serine and glycine, the researchers also found some cancer cells were more susceptible to chemicals in cells called reactive oxygen species, making “conventional cancer treatments more effective.”
“Our findings suggest that restricting specific amino acids through a controlled diet plan could be an additional part of treatment for some cancer patients in the future, helping to make other treatments more effective,” said Dr. Oliver Maddocks, a Cancer Research UK scientist at the University of Glasgow.
The effect of pulling these amino acids from the mice essentially led to starvation of the cancer cells. Healthy cells can make their own supply of serine and glycine, but cancerous cells rely on the host’s diet to get the amino acids needed to make the proteins that keep the cancer cells alive and growing.
The diet was tested on mouse models with intestinal cancer or lymphoma. The researchers report the next step is to move into a clinical trial, according to an April 19 article in Medical Express. Part of the trial will include assessing which patients will benefit from this diet. During the study they did find that cancers with the KRAS gene did not see the same improvement as non-KRAS cancers.
For the close to 3,000 Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, the potential that a change in their diet can make a difference in the aggressiveness of the cancer is encouraging. Mesothelioma is a rare, incurable cancer that is caused by breathing in asbestos fibers. Although symptoms from the cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation, specialists in the field have not yet found an effective, consistent therapy to halt the tumor growth.
The UK researchers are quick to point out that this research consisted of a complex, restricted diet that would be short-term and “must be carefully controlled and monitored by doctors for safety.” Recreating this at home may not be possible, or safe.
Mesothelioma patients should always check with their physicians prior to making any major changes to their diet or lifestyle.
Read the full study in the April 19 issue of Nature.