Study confirms nutrition’s role in childhood blood cancer

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A molecular building block of many animal proteins, the amino acid valine, plays a key role in cancerous growth seen in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia

Led by researchers at NYU Langone Health, its Department of Pathology, and the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center in the US, a study showed that genes involved in using up valine in cells were more active in cancerous T cells than in normal T cells.

Blocking these valine-linked genes not only led to decreased valine in leukemia blood T cells, but also stalled these tumor cells from growing in the lab. Only 2 percent of cancerous T cells remained alive.

Further, experiments suggested that changes (mutations) in the DNA code of the gene NOTCH1, the most common seen in patients who develop leukemia, encourage cancer growth in part by increasing valine levels.

Experiments also showed that feeding leukemic mice low-valine diets for three weeks interrupted tumor growth. The diet also reduced circulating blood cancer cells by at least half and in some cases to undetectable levels. By contrast, re-introduction of valine to the diets led to cancer progression.

The research team has plans next year to test whether diets low in valine-rich foods, such as meat, fish, and beans, are an effective treatment in people with the cancer.

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