Cutting out certain amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — from the diet of mice slows tumor growth and prolongs survival, according to new research published in Nature.

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and the University of Glasgow found that removing two non-essential amino acids — serine and glycine — from the diet of mice slowed the development of lymphoma and intestinal cancer.

The researchers also found that the special diet made some cancer cells more susceptible to chemicals in cells called reactive oxygen species.

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy boost levels of these chemicals in the cells, so this research suggests a specially formulated diet could make conventional cancer treatments more effective.

The next stage would be to set up clinical trials with cancer patients to assess the feasibility and safety of such a treatment.

Dr. Oliver Maddocks, a Cancer Research UK scientist at the University of Glasgow, said: “Our findings suggest that restricting specific amino acids through a controlled diet plan could be an additional part of treatment for some cancer patients in future, helping to make other treatments more effective.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: Several amino acids are suggested to play a role in cancer growth. In this study, serine and glycine were identified as possible sources of energy for cancer cells. Other studies have found that glutamine can fuel cancer growth. In most studies, extremely high amounts of these proteins were used to stimulate growth. Thus, I do not feel that it is necessary (or advisable) to significantly decrease protein in the diet. Focusing on healthy amounts of high quality protein, avoiding both deficiencies and excesses, seems reasonable to me. We know that the body needs protein for energy, muscle preservation, and many other processes, but we can also have too much of a good thing. As with many things, moderation is key.