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Asparagus link to breast cancer

Thursday February 8th, 2018

An amino acid found in many common foods could aid breast cancer metastasis, according to British researchers.

The findings could lead to patients being offered dietary advice so they can reduce intake of the substance.

Professor Greg Hannon, of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, UK, and colleagues investigated an amino acid called asparagine, which can be made in the body and is consumed in asparagus, soy, dairy, poultry, and seafood.

Asparagine was chosen because recent research highlighted it as worthy of further investigation, as breast cancer cells that make more asparagine are more likely to metastasise. The substance is already known to play a part in lymphoblastic leukaemia.

The team's work on mice showed that asparagine is essential for breast cancer to spread, and when it is restricted, cancer cells stopped metastasising.

Details are published in the journal Nature last night.

Professor Hannon stated: "Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread.

“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 in other parts of the body. This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease.

"In the future, restricting this amino acid through a controlled diet plan or by other means could be an additional part of treatment for some patients with breast and other cancers."

Professor Charles Swanton of Cancer Research UK commented: "Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine. It's possible that in future, this drug could be repurposed to help treat breast cancer patients."

Knott, S. R. et al. Asparagine bioavailability governs metastasis in a model of breast cancer. Nature 7 February 2018.

Tags: Cancer | Diet & Food | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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