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Bespoke ‘medical diets’ could boost cancer treatment success

By David Anderson , 20-Apr-2017
Last updated on 20-Apr-2017 at 12:15 GMT2017-04-20T12:15:31Z

© iStock/Marek Uliasz
© iStock/Marek Uliasz

Nutritionally tailored that lack certain non-essential amino-acids could help boost the performance of traditional cancer treatments, say researchers.

Creating bespoke nutrient-filled diets lacking some amino acids for cancer patients could help boost the performance of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has been dubbed potentially a “big step forward” in helping treat a disease which kills over 160,000 people a year in the UK.

New research has given fresh evidence that nutrition can help boost traditional cancer treatments and also that the removal of two non-essential amino acids slows the development of lymphoma and intestinal cancer.

Scientists in recent years have taken a fresh interest in the processes as to how cancer cells get nutrients and energy, compared to how healthy cells get nutrients and energy, and whether the differences can help with developing new cancer treatments and therapies. In this latest research, researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and the University of Glasgow scrutinised the impact of removing the amino acids serine and glycine from the diet of mice.

They found removing the amino acids slowed the development of lymphoma and intestinal cancer and prolonged survival rates, suggesting that restricting specific amino acids through a controlled diet plan could play a key additional treatment role for some cancer patients in the future.

The research, funded by Cancer Research UK, has been published in the publication Nature.

While healthy cells are able to make sufficient serine and glycine, cancer cells are much more dependent on getting these vital amino acids from the diet.

Speaking to NutraIngredients, Dr Emma Smith, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “I think this can be a really interesting angle. I think it’s certainly something to keep an eye out for.

“Anything that can boost the power of other treatments, things that can make chemotherapy and radiotherapy more effective would be a big step forward.”

Meal replacement shakes

Dr Smith likened the bespoke diets to nutrient-filled meal replacement shakes, lacking the two amino acids, which would be formulated by specialists to ensure other sources of nutrients were not lacking.

“This is very early days still. They [researchers] are interested in this strictly from a treatment perspective, they are not talking about the diet of people walking around the streets.

“And they are also talking about it being a strictly controlled treatment, so it would be a specially formulated diet. This would need the input of doctors and dieticians who work in the hospitals.

Don’t try this at home

“This is absolutely not something you conceivably could do at home”, she told us.

Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist and study co-author, said: “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 well-being. This means that patients cannot safely cut out these specific amino acids simply by following some form of home-made diet.”

The next step is to test the diet in clinical trials in people to see if the diet lacking the amino acids helps slow tumour growth in humans as seen in mice.

Researchers would also test to see which patients are most likely to benefit, depending on their characterisation of their cancer.

While the test results have raised hopes for cancer researchers, the study also found that the diet was less effective in tumours with an activated Kras gene, such as most pancreatic cancer, because the faulty gene boosted the ability of the cancer cells to make their own serine and glycine.

Researchers said this could help to select which tumours could be best targeted by diet therapy.

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