New research suggests that starvation before a chemotherapy session could make it more effective by protecting healthy cells as chemo destroys malignant cells. The study, which was led by Valter Longo at the University of Southern California, tested on mice that were kept without food for 48 hours before giving them chemo.
According to the study, 28 mice starved for 48 to 60 hours before chemo, but only one mouse died. However, out of 37 mice that underwent chemo but did not starved before treatment, 20 died from chemo toxicity.
The response of the mice’s body from starvation differentiates normal cells from cancerous cells. Researchers say healthy cells can withstand higher doses of existing chemo drugs, but further studies for humans are needed to confirm these positive effects on cells.
“We had found that healthy cells have a ‘shield mode’ — a kind of protective strategy that allows the organism to be resistant to not just one but dozens of threats and stresses, including starvation. So we thought this characteristic might be a way to distinguish between normal cells and cancer cells when applying chemotherapy. And it turns out that it works for yeast, for human cells in test tubes, and here, in mice,” Longo said.
Other researchers for cancer welcomed the findings published in the online issue of ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Science’ on March 31.
“This is very important paper. It defines a novel concept in cancer biology. In theory, it opens up new treatment approaches that will allow higher doses of chemotherapy. It’s a direction that’s worth pursuing in clinical trials in humans,” said Prof. Pinchas Cohen from UCLA.
Dr. Valter Longo, along with his team, are now preparing to test the starvation method on a small group of bladder cancer patients to be done at the Norris Cancer Center within six months, saying, “We hope this works with patients, and we have reason to think it will. I think I’m more enthusiastic about this than anything else I’ve done. And you can see the potential for this being turned into something very, very useful. But we won’t know until we do it”