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Scientists Thwart Cancer-spreading Compound, In Mice

08 February 2018

The researchers gave mice with breast cancer an enzyme that prevents the production of the amino acid asparagine.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge said the findings suggest breast cancer patients should avoid high-asparagine foods.

When scientists reduced asparagine in animals with breast cancer, they found that the number of secondary tumours in other tissues fell dramatically.

Asparagine, an amino acid also found in dairy and poultry, somehow helps cancerous cells to move from the breast into the bloodstream and colonise other areas of the body, Cambridge researchers found.

These data indicated that the greater the ability of breast cancer cells to make asparagine, the more likely the disease is to spread.

Finding ways to stop this from happening is key to increasing survival.

When the availability of asparagine was reduced, we saw little impact on the primary tumour in the breast, but tumour cells had reduced capacity for metastases (spread) in other parts of the body, the study's lead author, Professor Greg Hannon, said.

The study, reported in the journal Nature, was carried out on mice which had a highly developed breast cancer.

"This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease". Perhaps further research will show if the connection between asparaginase and cancer will make these treatments more effective in the future.

It means breast cancer patients may be advised to try an extreme diet of certain fruit and vegetables - or asparagine-lowering drugs - on top of traditional treatments in an effort to prevent the disease from metastasizing.

Dr George Poulogiannis, Dr Michel Wagner and PhD student Marc Olivier Turgeon worked on the research that took place at the ICR. When the lab mice were given food rich in asparagine, the cancer cells spread more rapidly.

Diet may impact the spread of some cancers, according to a study published Wednesday by an global team of researchers.

United Kingdom researchers have discovered a nutrient in everyday foods can determine a cancer's growth and expansion. Experts do not recommend the removal of foods from the diet containing asparaginase because it can be very hard to do, and the findings of this study have not yet been confirmed. It's possible that in future, this drug could be re-purposed to help treat breast cancer patients.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head nurse, said: "Research like this is crucial to help develop better treatments for breast cancer patients".

Scientists Thwart Cancer-spreading Compound, In Mice