The right diet can boost potency of cancer drugs

The proper diet can make certain cancer drugs more effective in mice.Credit: Alfred Schauhuber/ullstein bild via Getty

Boosting the power of some cancer drugs could be as simple as modifying what you eat, according to two recent studies in mice. The results are the latest from an ongoing push to harness the body’s metabolism to fight cancer.

A study1 published on 11 July in Nature finds that supplementing mouse chow with the amino acid histidine made a chemotherapy called methotrexate more effective against leukaemia cells. Histidine, which is particularly rich in foods like meat and beans, can be given as a nutritional supplement.

The work comes on the heels of another study2, published on 4 July in Nature, which found that using diet to influence insulin levels can make another set of cancer drugs — those that target a protein called PI3K — more effective.

Both teams now aim to find out if their approaches work in people with cancer. But for now, the evidence in mice suggests that the food that patients eat could influence how well their cancer drugs work.

“Diet matters in cancer therapy,” says David Sabatini, who studies growth and metabolism at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the lead author on the histidine study.

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