Common food compound asparagine linked to cancer spread

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In studies with mice, the scientists found that a certain amino acid found in some foods played a significant role in increasing the spread of one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer to other areas in the body. The spread of the cancer cells, often to the brain, lungs, and bones, is the chief reason of death for breast cancer patients.

The amino acid Asparagine, found in asparagus, has been linked with cancer tumour growth.

Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said dietary advice to patients to avoid food containing asparagine or drugs that break down this nutrient "could be added to standard treatment to help prevent metastasis".

"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. They found that this combination greatly reduced the spread of the notoriously fast spreading and hard to treat triple-negative breast cancer.

Making big changes to your diet could deprive cancer of a nutrient that it needs to spread throughout the body, researchers say. It is when the cancer spreads throughout the body - or metastasises - that it can become fatal.

- Scientists have uncovered a key mechanism that facilitates the spread of breast cancer cells, and thus a potential target for new therapeutic approaches in the fight against the disease, PharmaTimes reports. The researchers, who published their work Wednesday in the journal Nature, used a number of methods to reduce asparagine levels in the mice, including changes to their diets.

Humans also have this gene, which allows them to produce asparagine biologically.

"Research like this is crucial to help develop better treatments for breast cancer patients", Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head nurse, said.

The team also believes the study has implications for not just breast cancer, but other types of metastatic cancers as well. It's possible that in future, this drug could be re-purposed to help treat breast cancer patients.

Investigators now are considering conducting an early-phase clinical trial in which healthy participants would consume a low-asparagine diet.