Restricting certain amino acids in diet could treat cancer

Credit CC0 Public Domain

Credit CC0 Public Domain

Cutting out certain amino acids - the building blocks of animal proteins - extended the lives of mice by starving tumours.

A diet free of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, could offer a way of "starving" cancer cells, say Scottish scientists.

GLASGOW scientists have uncovered a special diet that could make cancer treatments more effective.

The next step is for researchers at Glasgow's Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and Glasgow University to start human trials on cancer patients.

This is because it boosted the ability of the cancer cells to make their own serine and glycine.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy boost the levels of these chemicals in the cells, so this research suggests that a specially formulated diet could make conventional cancer treatments more effective.

Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK's chief scientist and co-author of the study said: "This kind of restricted diet would be a short-term measure and must be carefully controlled and monitored by doctors for safety.

This means that patients can not safely cut out these specific amino acids simply by following some form of home-made diet", says Prof Karen Vousden, the study co-author and Cancer Research UK's chief scientist. Our diet is complex and protein - the main source of all amino acids - is vital for our health and well-being.

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". "This means that patients can not safely cut out these specific amino acids simply by following some form of home-made diet." said Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK's chief scientist and study co-author.

They also need to work out which patients are most likely to benefit, as they found the diet was less effective in tumours with an activated Kras gene, which is seen in most pancreatic cancers.

This could help to select which tumours could be best targeted by diet therapy.

Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK's science communication manager, added: "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".

The risk is almost as high as the danger of developing cancer by smoking 20 cigarettes each day.