Amino acid asparagine may help cancer spread, study reports

A new study found that the amino acid asparagine may help tumors move throughout the body.

Certain diets could help breast cancer tumors spread throughout the body, according to research published in the journal Nature,

This new discovery — which comes from scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute — adds to the growing pile of evidence that cancer is directly tied to the food a person eats. In this case, the cancer looked at in the study was linked to the amino acid asparagine, which is found in many popular foods, such as asparagus, seafood, and poultry.

The team analyzed asparagine’s connection to cancer by feeding mice in a controlled study. Some of the rodents were given a low-asparagine diet, while others were administered drugs that blocked the amino acid. Mice that were given the drugs had slow growing tumors, while the others died much more quickly than they normally would have.

“We’re seeing increasing evidence that specific cancers are addicted to specific components of our diet,” said study co-author Gregory Hannon, a researcher at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, according to BBC News“In the future, by modifying a patient’s diet or by using drugs that change the way that tumour cells can access these nutrients we hope to improve outcomes in therapy.”

When it comes to cancer, the first tumor is rarely deadly. It is when the cells begin to spread that it become a serious problem. In order to multiply, a cancerous cell must break off from the main tumor, then survive in the bloodstream and thrive somewhere else inside the body. Researchers believe that is the process asparagine aids.

However, while some may be concerned over the new findings, the team still has to confirm the discovery in human trials. Not only that, but asparagine is extremely hard to avoid. This research was more to look at the link between diet and cancer than to warn people to stay away from certain foods.

“On current evidence, we don’t recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors,” said Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now who was not involved in the study, according to The Guardian. “We’d also encourage all patients to follow a healthy and varied diet – rich in fruit, vegetables and pulses, and limited in processed meat and high fat or sugar foods – to help give them the best chance of survival.”

If researchers can fully understand how food affects cancer, they may be able to come up with new cures or treatments. While that point is a long way off, the team hopes that one day patients will be put on special drinks that are nutritionally balanced, but lack asparagine in order to slow down tumor spread.