Amino acid restricting diet could ‘starve’ cancer

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Eating a diet that restricts certain amino acids could be used as an additional treatment in some cancer cases, says Cancer Research UK.

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beaston Institute and the University of Glasgow found that removing the amino acids serine and glycine from the diet could slow the development of some cancers. Additionally, the controlled diet also made some cancer treatments more effective.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

The researchers found that lymphoma and intestinal cancer development was slowed in mice fed the modified diet. The diet also made some cancer cells more susceptible to chemicals called reactive oxygen species.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy boost levels of reactive oxygen species in cells, so the team hope the diet could make these treatments more effective at killing cancer cells.

However, the authors of the report have warned against patients taking a ‘do-it-yourself’ approach.  

Professor Karen Vousden, study co-author and Chief Scientist for Cancer Research UK (CRUK), said: ‘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.

‘This kind of restricted diet would be a short-term measure and must be carefully controlled and monitored by doctors for safety.’

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

Dr Emma Smith, Science Communication Manager at CRUK, 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.

‘The next steps are clinical trials in people to see if giving a specialized 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.’