Breast Cancer Linked To An Amino Acid Found In Asparagus

Ray Weaver
February 9, 2018

Asparagine takes its name from the vegetable asparagus and is an amino acid.

EATING chicken, dairy and potatoes makes cancer more deadly by helping it spread to other parts of the body, a study suggests.

However, due to the prevalence of asparagine in many types of food, drugs that block the intake of the amino acid, named L-asparagine, may prove to be easier to administer.

Asparagine, an amino acid derived from various foods like asparagus, fish and nuts, could likely expedite the spread of breast cancer, according to research out of Cambridge University.

In future, the scientists believe that alongside conventional treatments like chemotherapy, breast cancer patients could be given a diet in hospital that restricts asparagine to help stop the disease spreading.

"It was a really huge change, [the cancers] were very hard to find", Professor Greg Hannon told the BBC.

Food has been linked to cancer in the past, with hot tea said to increase the risk among cigarette smokers and alcohol drinkers for esophageal cancer, and a high-fat diet said to worsen prostate cancer.

Breast cancer cell photographed by an electron scanning microscope.

A cancerous cell must go through huge changes in order to spread - it must learn to break off the main tumour, survive in the bloodstream and thrive elsewhere in the body.

Among the candidate metastatic drivers evaluated in the study, one stood out: the level of asparagine synthetase expression in a primary tumor. They were also put on a low-asparagine diet.

In the long run, scientists think patients would be put on special drinks that are nutritionally balanced, but lack asparagine.

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "This is interesting research looking at how cutting off the supply of nutrients essential to cancer's spread could help restrain tumours". The next step would involve a clinical trial with cancer patients.

The research team found that this genetic adjustment had the same effect in reducing the spread of cancer, or made new metastases smaller with a combination of techniques producing the best results - and in some cases even shrinking the primary tumour.

She said: "We don't recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors".

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