Cutting certain amino acids from diet may help combat cancer

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and the University of Glasgow found that removing two non-essential amino acids - serine and glycine - from the diet of mice slowed the development of lymphoma and intestinal cancer.

By working with genetically engineered mouse models of intestinal cancer (driven by Apc inactivation) or lymphoma (driven by Myc activation), the Cancer Research UK scientists hoped to extend diet therapy research to "more clinically relevant autochthonous tumors". Our diet is complex and protein - the main source of all amino acids - is vital for our health and well-being.

Amino acids make up the building blocks of our proteins and are vital to cellular biosynthesis.

The study published in Nature also found the diet was less effective in tumours fuelled by a faulty gene known as Kras, such as most pancreatic cancer.

The researchers acknowledged that devising a diet without these two amino acids would be quite hard and they would test it on healthy people first to see how tolerable it was and "how easy it was to stick to and how it affects our levels of the two amino acids".

The next stage would be to set up clinical trials with cancer patients to assess the feasibility and safety of such a treatment, the researchers said.

Researchers also found that the special diet made some cancer cells more susceptible to chemicals in cells called reactive oxygen species. Being aware of such effects could help clinicians select which tumors could be best targeted by diet therapy.

"This means that patients can not safely cut out these specific amino acids simply by following some form of home-made diet".

The next step is to test the diet in clinical trials in people to see if the diet lacking the amino acids helps slow tumour growth in humans as seen in mice.

Dr Emma Smith, science communication manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is a really interesting look at how cutting off the supply of nutrients essential to cancer cell growth and division could help restrain tumours".

For media enquiries contact Stephanie McClellan in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 5314 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.

Additional details appeared April 19 in the journal Nature, in an article entitled "Modulating the Therapeutic Response of Tumours to Dietary Serine and Glycine Starvation".

The charity spent more than £33 million in Scotland previous year on some of the UK's leading scientific and clinical research.

Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.

Every day, 88 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer and two in four people manage to survive it for at least 10 years.

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