Cutting asparagus could prevent spread of breast cancer, study shows

Cutting asparagus could prevent spread of breast cancer, study shows

The result: Cancer in mice on the low asparagine diet spread much more slowly.

Asparagine, an amino acid also found in dairy and poultry, somehow helps cancerous cells to move from the breast into the bloodstream and colonise other areas of the body, Cambridge researchers found.

Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute showed blocking its production with a drug called L-asparaginase in mice, and putting them on a low-asparagine diet, greatly reduced the breast cancer's ability to spread.

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.

Professor Greg Hannon, lead author of the study, said: "Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread".

Baroness Delyth Morgan, the chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said patients should not go on drastic diets on the back of this study.

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When scientists reduced asparagine in animals with breast cancer, they found that the number of secondary tumours in other tissues fell dramatically.

"This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease". Anti-estrogen therapy is usually successful in treating the disease initially, but ER-positive breast cancers will often recur because tumors develop a resistance to treatment.

Researchers know that further study and trials are needed to understand this phenomenon more clearly.

Reference Simon R.V. Knott, Elvin Wagenblast, Showkhin Khan, Sun Y. Kim, Mar Soto, Michel Wagner, Marc-Olivier Turgeon, Lisa Fish, Nicolas Erard, Annika L. Gable, Ashley R. Maceli, Steffen Dickopf, Evangelia K. Papachristou, Clive S. D'Santos, Lisa A. Carey, John E. Wilkinson, J. Chuck Harrell, Charles M. Perou, Hani Goodarzi, George Poulogiannis, Gregory J. Hannon.

"Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia which is dependent on asparagine". It was more likely to be restricted to one site, potentially making the cancer significantly less harmful. The same was seen in cancers of the head, neck and kidney.

According to Lee, genetic analysis will soon be the dominant field of ER-positive breast cancer research, eventually leading to improved treatments and patient outcomes.

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