'Tantalising' new method of treating cancer by removing amino acid found in meat, fish and eggs from patient's diets is uncovered in mouse study


A diet low in serine, an amino acid in meat, fish and eggs — taken in tandem with drugs to stop its production — may provide a new approach to cancer treatment. As they grow more aggressively, cancer cells are more dependant on serine — a protein building block — than their healthy peers, suggest-ing a potential weakness.

Previous studies in mice and human cells indicated that lowering serine levels can slow tumour growth — but many cancer cells are capable of making their own. In fact, the 'KRAS mutation' that allows tumours to produce serine is found in 30 percent of all patients, and is common in hard-to-treat bowel and pancreatic cancers.

However, UK researchers have shown that, in mice containing a graft of human bowel cancer cells, tumour growth is slowed by low-serine diets and the drug PH755. They reported that, encoura-gingly, PH755 induced few side effects in the animals — and the dual-pronged approach may work against a variety of cancers. However, further work on human cells and safety tests will be needed before this approach to treatment can be recommended for cancer patients.

Prior to testing the dual approach in the mouse models, the team had seen promising results in both cell cultures in the lab and in so-called organoids — 3D tumour models which are designed to mimic the complexity of real organs. 'The idea of being able to develop dietary interventions, based on the understanding of mechanisms be-hind how changes in nutrients affect tumours, has the potential to unlock a powerful way to treat cancer,' said cancer biologist Karen Vous-den.

'In the future this could provide a basis for developing a precision medicine approach to diet as a cancer therapy, much as we do with targeted drugs,' the Cancer Research UK chief scientist added. 'Personalising each individual's diet to target the nutritional de-mands of cancer could, along-side other therapies, give people the best opportunity to respond to treatment.''While it’s encouraging to see the potential of targeting cancer’s nutritional demands to help treat the disease, it’s important to rem-ember that this is early research in mice and cells,' said Cancer Research UK's head information nurse Mar-tin Ledwick.

'People with cancer shouldn’t change their diets in light of this,' he cautioned. 'We need to see if this work translates into cancer in humans before testing to see if diet changes are helpful.''Understanding the fundamen-tal biology of cancer through stu-dies like this is vital for revealing the true complexity of the disease, and can shed light on new treat-ment avenues,' said Cancer Re-search UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell.

'This research has given us a tantalising glimpse into how we can turn cancer’s dietary dependencies against it, and we look forward to seeing if the approach works in people.' The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.