Amino Acid may be Key to Blood Cancer Treatment
Radiation and chemotherapy - we often think of these treatments as soon as we hear the word ‘cancer’, but recent discoveries may provide an alternative method for fighting cancer that does not include the detrimental effects such as chronic pain, nausea/vomiting and fatigue that current treatments cause.1 The amino acid valine has been found to be vital for the proper functioning of blood stem cells, and when mice are deprived of valine for two to four weeks, new blood cell production comes to a halt.1,2 This may prove to be an incredible discovery for blood cancer patients, as instead of having to kill blood stem cells using toxic treatments prior to a bone marrow transplant, simply adjusting the diet of a patient prior to surgery may work just as well.1 Valine deprivation may even kill cells that are responsible for the cancer in leukemia patients, which is incredible when considering the simplicity and relatively less harmful nature of this prospective treatment.1,2 Still, it is important that the proper research is done to determine exactly how long humans can tolerate valine deprivation, as there is always the threat of developing anemia when considering a low-protein diet.
After discovering the sensitivity that human blood stem cells have for valine, researchers are already wondering about possible other amino acid sensitivities that may be useful for the treatment of other types of illnesses throughout the body.2 The body contains 19 amino acids, and any one of these may be vital for the regulation or development of other cell types - the discovery of blood stem cell sensitivity to valine may just be the start of a new field of research.1 This may also provide an opportunity for pregnant women, who can’t receive chemotherapy or radiation, to receive an alternative treatment that can work as well or possibly even better.1 Giving patients carefully regulated intravenous diets prior to transplant procedures would be an efficient and fairly easy method of incorporating this new discovery into an alternative treatment, but research is still required to assure the safety of such a procedure.1,2 Although amino acids are some of the most basic building blocks within the human body, they may be the key to creating alternative treatments for cancer patients without the toxic and harmful effects of today’s treatments.
If amino acid deprivation/ manipulation shows to be a resounding success when it arrives at the human trial stage, this could be an incredible leap forward in the battle against cancer, but also has a number of implications in the field of bioethics. Currently, the chronic pain that results from cancer treatments, and the best ways to go about combating such pain, are major bioethical issues that are constantly being debated - yet this could be a solution to such issues. Still, the lack of research in the human model may be a cause for concern, as we currently have no real idea of what other adverse effects such treatment may be having on the body as a whole. Although promising, this treatment necessitates extensive testing and completion of development before bringing it to the public, as safety for the many who would benefit from such treatment should be assured.
1. Weintraub, Karen. “Could Diet Change Help Treat Blood Cancer or Transplant Patients?”. Scientific American. October 20, 2016. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/could-diet-change-help-treat-blood-cancer-or-transplant-patients/
2. Vaughan, Christopher. “Withholding amino acid depletes blood stem cells.” Stanford Medicine. October 18, 2016. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2016/10/withholding-amino-acid-depletes-blood-stem-cells.html