Health Care

Breast Cancer Linked To An Amino Acid Found In Asparagus

Breast Cancer Linked To An Amino Acid Found In Asparagus

"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 (spread) in other parts of the body".

Asparagine, a molecule named after asparagus where it was first identified in high quantities, has now been shown to be an essential ingredient for tumour cells to gain these migratory properties.

For this study, the team conducted their animal study at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute on mice with an aggressive form of triple-negative breast cancer.

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Other experts also cautioned against removing food groups from people's diets until more is known about how asparagine works in humans.

Could this apply to other types of cancer?

"It was a really huge change, [the cancers] were very hard to find", said Greg Hannon, the lead scientist for the study and the director of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

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It was discovered that the appearance of asparagine synthetase - the enzyme cells used to make asparagine - at the primary tumour site was strongly associated with later cancer spread.

Restricting asparagine through a controlled diet plan or other means could be an additional part of treatment for some cancer patients in the future, the researchers believe. But since asparagine may be synthesized in the body, dietary restrictions may need to be accompanied by drugs that interfere with the metabolic pathways that give rise to the amino acid. In fact, he warns, eliminating the amino acid could cause a less desirable outcome because in addition to being found naturally in foods, the amino acid is produced by our bodies. They designed and carried out studies to measure the levels of asparagine in different tissues within the mice before and after treatment with the L-asparaginase drug. They were also tried with drugs to block asparagine. It is more active in the types of tumour that spread most aggressively.

Despite Knott's warning that it's best to avoid drastic measures such as eliminating most foods from your diet, the researcher does think that more studies could possibly lead to treatments that stop cancer from spreading. Also, breast cancer cells with higher levels of the amino acid were more likely to spread.

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