discoveries magazine

Disparaging Asparagine


Photo: Clint Blowers                

Asparagine, a nonessential amino acid commonly found in food, may hold a key to limiting the spread of an often-deadly type of breast cancer, according to a multicenter study led by Cedars-Sinai. By reducing asparagine in laboratory mice with triple-negative breast cancer, investigators dramatically inhibited the tumor’s ability to migrate. Triple-negative cancer cells metastasize faster than most other cancers.

“Our study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests diet can influence the course of the disease,” says Simon Knott, PhD, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Center for Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics and an author of the study.

The research was conducted collaboratively with more than a dozen institutions.

Foods low in asparagine include most fruits and vegetables—except asparagus, from which it was named. Other asparagine-rich foods include dairy products, beef, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy, and whole grains.

The scientists are considering an early-phase clinical trial that would employ a low-asparagine diet in conjunction with chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Studying effects of asparagine also could alter treatments for other types of cancer.