07 November 2018

Obese children treated for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia might benefit from changing to a low-fat diet, according to a US study in mice.

Scientists from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered if they switched obese mice from a high-fat to a low-fat diet immediately before they started vincristine chemotherapy, survival improved dramatically.

The obese mice that were switched to a low-fat diet had a survival rate of 92%, while the obese mice which remained on the high-fat diet had a 17% survival rate. Control non-obese mice fed a low‑fat diet had a survival rate of 42%.

Dr Steven Mittelman, chief of paediatric endocrinology at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital and leader of the study, said the findings could eventually lead to a huge benefit for children with acute leukaemia.

“The most exciting thing to me about this study is the fact that this shows that a dietary intervention could potentially help us kill leukaemia cells in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia,” he said.

“The current treatments for leukaemia are very toxic, so finding a way to use a healthy diet, without increasing the toxicity of therapy to treat people with cancer, would be incredible.”

The study, published in the journal Cancer & Metabolism, builds on previous work by Dr Mittelman, which found that obesity made chemotherapy drugs much less effective in children with leukaemia. In that study, obese children with leukaemia relapsed 50% more often than their non‑obese counterparts.

First author Jonathan Tucci, from Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, said: “There are very few things in life you can do for one month that may have such a tremendous potential benefit, especially for your child who has cancer.”

The research team has now begun human trials, starting with a pilot study that tests whether a focused diet and activity intervention can reduce fat gain in children receiving chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.


Source: Tucci, J., Alhushki, W., Chen, T., Sheng, X., Kim, Y.-M., Mittelman, S.D. (2018) “Switch to low-fat diet improves outcome of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in obese mice”, Cancer & Metabolism, available at doi: 10.1186/s40170-018-0189-0


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