Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Breast Cancer Starved by Meat and Dairy Nutrient

The discovery of a significant link between breast cancer and nutrition is leading to a new treatment to “starve” breast cancer cells.

A/Prof Jeff Holst’s team at Sydney’s Centenary Institute stopped breast cancer cells from growing by blocking the proteins that pump key nutrients into the tumour cells. The method has now proven to be effective in preventing the growth of melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer cells.

The key nutrient of interest in the study, glutamine, is abundant in meat and dairy products. It is also produced naturally in the body, so a change of diet alone is not sufficient to starve the cells. The Centenary Institute is now working on drugs to block the nutrient pumps that allow glutamine to be absorbed by the cancer cells.

Holst said there is strong evidence to support a link between nutrition and cancer, and this new discovery demonstrates a way to tackle it. “African and Asian women have significantly lower rates of breast cancer,” he said. “However, upon moving to western nations and consuming the western diet, rates drastically increase.

“Unlike normal cells, many cancer cells rely on glutamine instead of glucose for the energy they need to divide and grow. We have discovered a way to stop tumours from growing by starving them of this essential nutrient.”

Holst said the research also offers new hope for treating the highly aggressive “triple-negative” subset of breast cancer. “Not only did we find that triple-negative breast cancer cells have more glutamine pumps on their surface, but also that blocking these pumps stopped the tumours from growing.”

The study, conducted in both cell and animal models, has been published in Oncogene.