Cancer treatment: Low-protein diet stops growth of malignant cells, study says

A low-protein diet has been shown to disrupt the nutritional signaling pathway that activates a key regulator of cancer growth in cells and mice. Changes in nutrition may be necessary to improve colon cancer treatment, according to a recent study from the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center.

“A low-protein diet alone will not be a cure. It must be combined with something else, such as chemotherapy,” said Sumeet Solanki, a research associate at the Rogel Cancer Center.

The risk of a low-protein diet is that people with cancer often experience muscle weakness and weight loss, which can be infuriating to limit protein.

Cancer cells need nourishment to survive and thrive. mTORC1 is one of a cell’s most important nutrient-sensing molecules. It enables cells to perceive various nutrients and, as a result, to expand and multiply, so it is often referred to as the master regulator of cell growth. Cells reduce the activity of the nutrient-sensing cascade and lower mTORC1 when nutrients are scarce.

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The ability of cells to grow and proliferate in response to dietary cues is governed by the regulator mTORC1. It is known to make cancer more resistant to conventional treatments and to be extremely active in malignancies with specific mutations. A complex called GATOR altered nutritional signals through a low-protein diet and more specifically a reduction in two essential amino acids.

“In colon cancer, when you reduce the nutrients found in tumors, the cells don’t know what to do. Without nutrients to grow, they go into a kind of crisis, which leads to massive cell death,” said senior author Yatrik. M. Shah, PhD, Horace W. Davenport Professor of the College of Physiology at Michigan Medicine.

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Blocking mTORC’s cancer-causing signals has been the main goal of previous attempts to block it. But when patients stop taking these inhibitors, their cancer returns because of the serious side effects they cause. Research suggests a different strategy for inhibiting mTORC: blocking the food pathway by restricting amino acids through a low-protein diet.

The researchers found that limiting amino acids increased cell death and prevented the spread of cancer in cells and animals. In tissue samples from colon cancer patients, higher mTORC levels have been shown to be associated with worse outcomes and increased chemoresistance, confirmed by researchers, Solanki claims that this could allow patients with this marker to customize their treatment.

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Long-term protein restriction is not optimal for cancer patients. However, Shah said you could potentially increase the effectiveness of these treatments if you can identify critical times when patients can follow a low-protein diet for a week or two, such as at the start of chemotherapy or radiation.

(with ANI inputs)

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