Magazine article Science News

Curbing Chemo: Fasting Cushions Drug's Side Effects in Mice

Magazine article Science News

Curbing Chemo: Fasting Cushions Drug's Side Effects in Mice

Article excerpt

A new study in mice suggests a connection between short-term starvation and the ability to tolerate chemotherapy.

Starving cancer-ridden mice for two days sent the animals' bodies into a "maintenance mode" that protected their healthy cells from a harsh chemo drug but left cancerous cells vulnerable.

Chemotherapy drugs kill healthy cells as well as cancerous ones, so targeting drugs more narrowly at tumors is a major goal of cancer research. The new study suggests a novel way to protect healthy cells from chemo, but translating the discovery into therapies for people might not be straightforward.

"If just skipping breakfast would make the chemotherapy easier to tolerate that would be great, but we have common clinical experience that tells us that this is not the case," comments Michael Pollak, a clinical oncologist and researcher at McGill University in Montreal. "We have lots of patients who have poor nutritional status because they're so sick but who still have poor responses to chemotherapy."

Because many cancer patients are already undernourished, further starvation could be risky and ill advised, Pollak says. "There are many questions that would have to be addressed before this could be considered for people." But he says understanding the molecular mechanisms that protect the mice's healthy cells could lead to drugs that directly trigger those mechanisms without the need for fasting.

A team of researchers led by Valter D. …

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