Breast Cancer Linked To An Amino Acid Found In Asparagus

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The researchers discovered that asparagine apparently helps breast cancer cells to transform into a state that can easily spread to the bloodstream and then to other organs.

To prevent the spread of breast cancer, it may help to limit dietary asparagine, an amino acid found in many foods of animal and plant origin-including, yes, asparagus.

Most cancer patients do not die from their primary tumour, but from the spread of diseased cells to the lungs, brain, bones, or other organs.

When the scientists eliminated asparagine from the diets of mice with "triple-negative" breast cancer, the cancer was less likely to travel to distant sites in the body.

"Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests diet can influence the course of the disease", said one of the first authors of the study, Simon Knott.

Speaking on TVNZ 1's Breakfast programme this morning, Cancer Society New Zealand's chief medical director Chris Jackson says "this is a really important study".

Asparagine is also found in soy products, poultry and shellfish, but Cancer Research UK - which part funded this study - cautioned that dietary restriction of high-asparagine foods has not been shown to be effective in human cancer patients yet.

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By reducing asparagine in the mouse diet, metastasis was reduced by half, Hannon told AFP.

Could an asparagine-restricted diet help stop tumour spread in cancer patients?

Asparagine is an amino acid - a building block of protein - and takes its name from asparagus. This finding, from mouse models, was confirmed by an examination of data from breast cancer patients.

Greg Hannon, from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Institute, said that they became interested in asparagine because they had noticed that breast cancer patients with the greatest propensity to...

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

The team also believes the study has implications for not just breast cancer, but other types of metastatic cancers as well.

Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine".

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