According to The American Cancer Society (ACS) breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, except for skin cancers. Currently, the average risk of a woman in the United States developing breast cancer sometime in her life is about 12%. This means there is a 1 in 8 chance she will develop breast cancer. This also means there is a 7 in 8 chance she will never have the disease. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women in the United States for 2019.
A new study performed by a team at Harvard Medical School has unexpectedly found that amino acid, leucine, may play a role in the formation of resistance to a certain drug, tamoxifen, that it used to treat estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer.
Estrogen often helps cancerous tumors to grow and spread, and to prevent this tamoxifen is used to block the estrogen receptors on cancer. Although this works initially, cancer frequently develops a resistance to this type of treatment and in that case, patients’ expected survival drops to less than five years.
Leucine, the amino acid mentioned above, is an important protein for making muscle and often comes from meat in our diets because the body is not able to synthesize it on its own.
The researchers at Harvard looked at how depriving ER-positive cancerous tissue of leucine would affect it. What they found was that when leucine was reduced, cell division of the tumor ceased while when leucine was increased cell division was increased.
Much more still needs to be researched and determined before any solid recommendations based on the data can be made. The lead researcher, Senthil K. Muthuswamy, Ph.D., warned that the research doesn’t “imply that animal proteins will enhance growth of breast cancer cells.” Rather the only thing that can be taken away from them at this point is that decreasing leucine in patients with ER-positive breast cancer would be helpful.
Dr. Steven Quay, CEO of Atossa Genetics stated, “Having studied leucine metabolism for my Ph.D. in biological chemistry at the beginning of my career, this finding makes total sense. Cancer is a disease characterized by both genetic changes, that provide the “motivation” to grow abnormally, and metabolic changes, that provide the “means” to grow abnormally. Leucine sits at the hub of metabolic pathways that have broad, pleomorphic effects. This paper joins scores of others that show the powerful effects of metabolism, including diet, on cancer growth. In our research here at Atossa Genetics, we are always watching for signs of the interplay of genetics and metabolism to help inform our clinical stage, development programs for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.”
If you found this story interesting you should consider reading about Seattle-based Atossa Genetics (Nasdaq: ATOS) which is is a clinical-stage drug company developing novel, proprietary therapeutics and delivery methods for breast cancer and other breast conditions. To learn more please see the dedicated coverage page at Vista Partners.