Diet may influence the spread of a deadly type of breast cancer, study finds

February 7, 2018, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Diet may influence the spread of a deadly type of breast cancer, study finds
Three-dimensional cell culture of breast cancer cells. Credit: National Institutes of Health (Dao Tiensinh)

A single protein building block commonly found in food may hold a key to preventing the spread of an often-deadly type of breast cancer, according to a new multicenter study published today in the medical journal Nature.

Investigators found that by limiting an amino acid called asparagine in laboratory mice with triple-negative breast cancer, they could dramatically reduce the ability of the cancer to travel to distant sites in the body. Among other techniques, the team used dietary restrictions to limit asparagine.

Foods rich in asparagine include dairy, whey, beef, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, asparagus, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains. Foods low in asparagine include most fruits and vegetables.

"Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests diet can influence the course of the disease," said Simon Knott, PhD, associate director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics at Cedars-Sinai and one of two first authors of the study. The research was conducted at more than a dozen institutions.

If further research confirms the findings in human cells, limiting the amount of asparagine cancer patients ingest could be a potential strategy to augment existing therapies and to prevent the spread of breast cancer, Knott added.

The researchers studied triple-negative breast cancer cells, which grow and spread faster than most other types of cancer cells. It is called triple negative because it lacks receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone and makes little of a protein called HER2. As a result, it resists common treatments—which target these factors and has a higher-than-average mortality rate.

Research from past studies found that most tumor cells remain in the primary breast site, but a subset of cells leaves the breast and enters the bloodstream. Those cells colonize in the lungs, brain and liver, where they proliferate. The study team wanted to understand the particular traits of the tumor cells circulating in the blood and in the sites where the cancer has spread.

The researchers discovered that the appearance of asparagine synthetase—the enzyme cells used to make asparagine—in a primary tumor was strongly associated with later cancer spread.

The researchers also found that metastasis was greatly limited by reducing asparagine synthetase, treatment with the chemotherapy drug L-asparaginase, or dietary restriction. When the lab mice were given food rich in asparagine, the cancer cells spread more rapidly.

"The study results are extremely suggestive that changes in diet might impact both how an individual responds to primary therapy and their chances of lethal disease spreading later in life," said the study's senior author, Gregory J. Hannon, PhD, professor of Cancer Molecular Biology and director, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge in England.

Investigators now are considering conducting an early-phase clinical trial in which healthy participants would consume a low-asparagine diet. If the diet results in decreased levels of asparagine, the next scientific step would involve a clinical trial with cancer patients. That trial likely would employ dietary restrictions as well as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, Knott said.

Studying the effects of asparagine also could alter treatments for other types of cancer, investigators say.

"This study may have implications not only for breast cancer, but for many metastatic cancers," said Ravi Thadhani, MD, MPH, vice dean, Research and Graduate Research Education, at Cedars-Sinai.

Explore further: Researchers identify specific protein that helps breast cancer to spread

More information: Simon R. V. Knott et al, Asparagine bioavailability governs metastasis in a model of breast cancer, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/nature25465

Related Stories

Researchers identify specific protein that helps breast cancer to spread

January 25, 2018
Researchers from the University's Institute of Translational Medicine have found an explanation for how breast cancer spreads to the lungs, which could potentially hold the key to preventing the progression of the disease.

Potential therapy identified for aggressive breast cancer

January 25, 2018
The European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, based with Cardiff University, has repurposed a current cancer therapy, TRAIL, to find a new treatment for advanced cancers that are resistant to anti-hormone therapy.

Factor that doubles the risk of death from breast cancer identified

January 19, 2018
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that the risk of death from breast cancer is twice as high for patients with high heterogeneity of the oestrogen receptor within the same tumour as compared to ...

Scientists identify breast cancer patients who may develop incurable secondary cancers

January 9, 2018
Scientists from King's College London, funded by Breast Cancer Now, believe they have found a way to identify lymph-node positive breast cancer patients who are most likely to develop incurable secondary tumours (metastases) ...

New study reveals late spread of breast cancer and backs key role of early diagnosis

August 14, 2017
Breast cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body break off and leave the primary tumour at late stages of disease development, scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and their collaborators have found.

Team identifies protein key to cancer cells ability to spread

November 17, 2017
University of Guelph scientists have made a discovery that could reduce the spread of cancer by hindering a protein that binds cancer cells together and allows them to invade tissues.

Recommended for you

'Liquid biopsy' predicts lymphoma therapy success within days, study finds

August 20, 2018
A blood test can predict which patients with a type of cancer called diffuse large B cell lymphoma are likely to respond positively to initial therapy and which are likely to need more aggressive treatment, according to a ...

Study shows how to make (and destroy) a metastatic cancer cell

August 20, 2018
Many cancers become especially dangerous only when they metastasize from their site of origin to faraway tissues such as lung, brain or bone. Now, a University of Colorado Cancer Center study published today in the Proceedings ...

Research team develops predictor for immunotherapy response in melanoma

August 20, 2018
In a new study, researchers developed a gene expression predictor that can indicate whether melanoma in a specific patient is likely to respond to treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors, a novel type of immunotherapy. ...

Study details effect of radiation exposure on hormone deficiencies

August 20, 2018
In a new study, University of Cincinnati (UC) researchers, in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital, have detailed the effect of radiation exposure on the development of hormone deficiency in pediatric and young ...

Scientists discover new method of diagnosing cancer with malaria protein

August 17, 2018
In a spectacular new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered a method of diagnosing a broad range of cancers at their early stages by utilising a particular malaria protein that sticks to cancer ...

Researchers find pathways that uncover insight into development of lung cancer

August 17, 2018
Lung cancer is the leading cause of preventable cancer death. A disease of complex origin, lung cancer is usually considered to result from effects of smoking and from multiple genetic variants. One of these genetic components, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.