Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have linked a common dietary element to breast cancer drug resistance, raising the prospect of a new way to attack a major cause of breast cancer death.
Drug resistance is the leading cause of death in women with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer, the most common form of the disease. Now, researchers have identified an ordinary dietary element that may increase the chances of a breast cancer becoming drug-resistant.
The connection of the amino acid leucine — found in foods such as beef, pork, chicken, fish, dairy products, and beans — to drug resistance raises hopes that a relatively simple intervention, like a shift to a low-leucine diet, can reduce the incidence of drug resistance, which is responsible for a large portion of the roughly 40,000 breast cancer deaths every year.
The work also raises the possibility that a drug could be developed to mirror the effects of that dietary restriction, by blocking cells’ ability to take in leucine from the surrounding environment.
Senthil Muthuswamy, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the cell biology program at the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said scientists in his lab have already begun experiments with mice to see whether dietary changes can make a difference in the disease’s course. They’re also exploring whether an experimental drug already in clinical trials for another purpose can block tumor cells’ ability to take up leucine.
“A lot of women are dying because of this condition,” Muthuswamy said. “So if you can have any impact on that cohort, whether it is through a drug or simple dietary manipulations combined with some other treatment, that would be huge. I would be ecstatic.”
The research was led by Muthuswamy and funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It was conducted by team that included research fellow Yasuhiro Saito, first author of a paper published recently in the journal Nature, and colleagues from Beth Israel, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Keio University in Japan, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, and the University of Toronto.
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