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Feb
8
Sandeep Singh Dhillon
60-Year-Old Drug May Hold Clues To Stopping Spread Of Breast Cancer – Forbes
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By Victoria Forster , CONTRIBUTOR

One of the oldest chemotherapy drugs in the world may be able to stop breast cancer spreading, according to a study published today in the journal Nature.

As with many types of cancer, most people who die of breast cancer do so not because of their primary tumor, but because their cancer spreads to other organs. For this to happen, the cancer cells must leave the original tumor, enter the bloodstream and then settle and grow in other organs. Once cancer has metastasized like this, the chances of survival are drastically lower than in individuals without metastasis.

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK institute at Cambridge University, U.K. found that giving L-asparaginase to mice and limiting the asparagine they consumed in their food greatly reduced the spread of breast cancer cells. It works by blocking the production of an amino acid called asparagine, which can be produced in the body by an enzyme called asparagine synthase or consumed in food. To confirm this, the scientists used RNA interference to block the production of asparagine synthase and found similar effects on the spread of the breast cancer cells.

L-asparaginase has been used for decades to treat children with leukemia and was originally pioneered in the 1950s after it reduced the growth of lymphomas in rat models. Some children with a particular type of leukemia show resistance to L-asparaginase and this has previously been linked to their levels of asparagine synthase, so the researchers examined data on breast cancer patients, which indicated that breast cancer cells that were able to make lots of asparagine were more likely to spread.

Professor Greg Hannon, lead author of the study, said: “Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread. When the availability of asparagine was reduced, we saw little impact on the primary tumor in the breast, but tumor cells had reduced capacity for metastases in other parts of the body.”

In the future, the scientists hope that nutritional interventions such as limiting asparagine, which is found in high quantities in soy, dairy, poultry and seafood, might stop the disease spreading and improve overall survival. However, specialists are keen to advise against breast cancer patients drastically changing their diets as a result of these new findings.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head nurse, said: “Research like this is crucial to help develop better treatments for breast cancer patients. At the moment, there is no evidence that restricting certain foods can help fight cancer, so it’s important for patients to speak to their doctor before making any changes to their diet while having treatment.”

L-asparaginase is not the first “old” drug for which scientists have found new potential uses. Thalidomide, the much-maligned drug responsible for serious birth defects after being given to pregnant mothers in the 1960s is now being used as an FDA-approved treatment for multiple myeloma and is in clinical trials for seemingly every other imaginable type of cancer.

Aspirin is also a hot research topic currently, proposed to prevent some types of cancer and big-hitting research institutions such as St. Jude’s in Memphis, focusing on childhood cancer, have entire research programs dedicated to repurposing existing drugs for new treatment possibilities.

With so much focus on new treatments, this is yet another reminder that successful cancer treatments might be already right underneath our noses.

This article originally appeared at https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2018/02/07/sixty-year-old-drug-may-hold-the-key-to-stopping-spread-of-breast-cancer/#b9159e8423e8



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