Breast cancer cells with higher levels of the amino acid were more likely to spread.
Seafood and meats including beef and poultry are rich in asparagine, one of the amino acids, or building blocks which cells use to make proteins.
Scientists have uncovered a key mechanism that facilitates the spread of breast cancer cells, and thus a potential target for new therapeutic approaches in the fight against the disease.
A common amino acid produced in the human body or absorbed from food can be suppressed to stop breast cancer spread in mice, researchers reported yesterday.
Scientists now think that alongside conventional treatments like chemotherapy, breast cancer patients could be given a diet that restricts asparagine to help stop the disease spreading.
Greg Hannon, from Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Institute, said that they became interested in asparagine because they had noticed that breast cancer patients with the greatest propensity to...
Asparagine appears to help cancer cells change into a form that easily spreads from the breast, through the bloodstream, to other organs where they grow into secondary tumours, Hannon said.
'This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease'.
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The spread of a particularly deadly type of breast cancer could be slowed with a change of diet, according to a new study.
This work relied on the team's expertise in analysing the metabolic processes that take place in cancer cells.
Studying the effects of asparagine also could alter treatments for other types of cancer, investigators say.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, told the BBC: "Interestingly, the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine".
Reducing the amount of asparagine in the mice reduced the spread of cancer but had no impact on the development of their primary tumour, the journal Nature reports. ER-positive breast cancer, diagnosed in two-thirds of breast cancer patients, is fueled by the presence of estrogen in the body.
Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head nurse, also stresses it is important for cancer patients to speak to their doctors before making any dietary changes.
In the future, restricting this amino acid through a controlled diet plan or by other means could be an additional part of treatment for some patients with breast and other cancers.