Breast cancer needs a certain amino acid to spread
There is growing evidence that our food has a significant impact on cancer growth and spread. Researchers have now found that breast cancer tumors especially need asparagine to spread throughout the body. This amino acid is found in many foods, such as poultry, seafood and asparagus.
In their joint investigation, scientists from the internationally recognized University of Cambridge and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute found that the spread of tumors in breast cancer is promoted by a certain amino acid. It is asparagine. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Nature".
Breast cancer is common in women
Breast cancer is a dangerous condition that affects many women throughout their lives. To be more specific, breast cancer is the most common malignant cancer in women. Fortunately, there are many effective ways to stop the disease nowadays. These include, for example, chemotherapy, surgery and treatments with antibodies.
Asparagine helps spread the tumors
With these types of treatment, doctors are trying not only to destroy cancer, but also to prevent the spread of breast cancer in the body of the women affected. When spread, life-threatening metastases develop in different parts of the body, which can then lead to death. Such metastases can affect the human brain or lungs, for example. In order to successfully spread, breast cancer produces a certain amino acid. The more effectively breast cancer produces the amino acid asparagine, the more the tumors scatter in the body, the researchers explain.
What foods contain asparagine?
Asparagine is produced naturally by the human body. However, it is also possible to consume this amino acid through food. Because asparagine is found in many foods, we consume the amino acid almost every day. Poultry, seafood, asparagus, potatoes, dairy products and soy are just a few of the foods in which the amino acid is found.
What happens when asparagine is withdrawn from breast cancer?
In the study currently carried out on mice with an aggressive form of breast cancer, the scientists examined what happens when asparagine is withdrawn from the body. The breast cancer was the so-called triple-negative breast cancer. This type of tumor is very difficult to treat because it does not respond to the hormone therapies normally used. The infected animals would normally have died within a few weeks because the tumors would have spread freely throughout the body, the doctors explain. However, if the laboratory mice were on a low asparagine diet or were given certain medications that blocked asparagine, the tumor would have difficulty spreading further in the body.
Cancer relies on parts of the diet
Last year, the results of a study by the University of Glasgow showed that the amino acids serine and glycine can slow the development of lymphomas and colon cancer. So there is increasing evidence that certain types of cancer depend on specific components of our diet, explains study author Professor Greg Hannon from the University of Cambridge. In the future, the doctors hope that they can change the access of tumor cells to these nutrients by changing their diet or by using medication. The experts speculate that this could significantly improve the therapy results.
Reduction of asparagine causes less metastasis
An initial tumor is rarely fatal. If the cancer spreads and metastasizes in the body, the disease can quickly become fatal. A cancer cell has to go through major changes before it can finally spread throughout the body. The cell has to separate from the main tumor, survive in the bloodstream and thrive elsewhere in the body. Asparagine appears to be very important for this process. If the availability of asparagine in the body is reduced, this does not have a direct impact on the original tumor, but it does form by reducing the number of metastases, explains Professor Hannon.
More research is needed
Future studies must now find out whether the relationships between breast cancer and asparagine found in mice also apply to humans. If the results of the current study are also confirmed in humans, this could lead to new treatment options. Although it is difficult to completely do without the amino acid, patients could, for example, receive special drinks that are nutritionally balanced but do not contain asparagine, the researchers say. However, the results of the investigation should not now lead to patients completely banning certain food groups from their diet without first talking to their doctors, the experts further explain. Patients should simply eat a healthy and varied diet.
Drug used for leukemia could help
The drug called L-asparaginase could possibly also be used in the future for the treatment of breast cancer patients. L-asparaginase is currently used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which also requires asparagine. (as)