A diet excluding specific amino acids could contribute to treatment of some cancers in the future, British researchers reported last night.
Dr Oliver Maddocks, of Glasgow University, UK, and colleagues looked at the impact of removing two non-essential amino acids, called serine and glycine, from the diet of mice.
They found that this slowed the development of lymphoma and intestinal cancer, because cancer cells rely more than healthy cells on obtaining these amino acids through diet.
In further tests, they found that this adapted diet made cancer cells more vulnerable to 'reactive oxygen species' - chemicals in cells that can suppress tumour growth by activating a cell-cycle inhibitor and by triggering cell death.
'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 future, helping to make other treatments more effective,' said Dr Maddocks.
Details of the research are published in Nature. Co-author, Professor Karen Vousden of Cancer Research UK, added: 'This kind of restricted diet would be a short term measure and must be carefully controlled and monitored by doctors for safety.
'Our diet is complex and protein - the main source of all amino acids - is vital for our health and wellbeing. This means that patients cannot safely cut out these specific amino acids simply by following some form of home-made diet.'
The researchers plan to develop their special diet and move on to trials in humans as soon as possible.
Dr Emma Smith of Cancer Research UK commented: 'The next steps are clinical trials in people to see if giving a specialised diet that lacks these amino acids is safe and helps slow tumour growth as seen in mice. We'd also need to work out which patients are most likely to benefit, depending on the characteristics of their cancer.'
Source: Maddocks, O. et al. Modulating the therapeutic response of tumours to serine and glycine starvation. Nature 19 April 2017
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