A substance found in many foods increases the spread of breast cancer






Diet seems to be significantly linked to how it affects cancer, as one more relevant indication comes from a study by scientists from the UK and the US, including two Greeks. According to this asparagine, a substance found in many foods (asparagus, poultry, seafood, etc.), increases the development of breast cancer.

Scientists have found that by limiting the amount of amino acid asparagine to the organism of experimental mice with aggressive triple negative breast cancer, they have been able to drastically reduce the ability of tumors to spread to distant parts of the body by making metastases.

The researchers, led by Molecular Biology Professor Greg Hannon of the University of Cambridge University’s Cancer Research Institute, who published the publication in Nature magazine, hope that by finding ways to reduce asparagine in cancer patients, will reduce the likelihood of metastases of cancer beyond the breasts.

What is asparagine and how it is produced

Asparagine, as an amino acid, is the foundation stone for cellular protein production. The body itself produces asparagine, while its quantity is increased through nutrition. It is even hard to avoid, as it is omnipresent.

Asparagus-rich foods include asparagus, dairy, beef, eggs, fish and seafood, potatoes, pulses, nuts, soybeans, whole grains, and so on. Low levels of asparagine exist in most fruits and vegetables, so these are foods that are less likely to fuel the spread of breast cancer.

If future research confirms these findings, it paves the way for a new therapeutic strategy based on limiting asparagine to the patient’s body alongside other therapies.

The so-called “triple-negative” breast cancer develops and spreads faster than other types of cancer, thus resisting existing therapies. A part of the cancer cells can make metastases in the lungs, brain, bones and liver. Most patients do not die from the original tumor in the breast, but from subsequent metastases.

The new study shows that the appearance in a tumor of asparagine synthetase, an enzyme that cells use to produce the amino acid asparagine, enhances the subsequent tumor expansion. On the contrary, metastasis is greatly inhibited by limiting asparagine synthetase either through nutritional restrictions or by chemotherapy with the L-asparaginase drug used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia and which in the future may be also exploited against breast cancer.

When test animals ate foods rich in asparagine, cancer cells spread their body much more easily, while the opposite occurred when their food contained very little asparagine.

Researchers, including the two Greeks  George Poulogiannis and Evangelia Papachristou (of the Cancer Institute of Great Britain and Cambridge University respectively), estimate that besides breast cancer, asparagine may also be involved in other cancers . But in the first phase, however, clinical trials must be carried out on humans as well.