Research labs are not often the place for elation but at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a stunning find in the quest to treat a little known, but dreaded form of human cancer.
"Anaplastic thyroid cancer is the most fatal type of cancer that exists," said Dr. Matthew Nehs, Brigham & Women's.
Nehs says most patients with anaplastic thyroid cancer die in a matter of months, primarily because it grows fast and spreads fast.
"This is worse than pancreatic cancer and worse than any other type of cancer. We don't know much about it because it grows so quickly," he said.
But there's one thing Nehs does know about the tumors, "They love sugar."
On a test called a pet scan, which uses a radioactive form of sugar as an imaging agent, "It goes straight to the tumor and lights it up." So Nehs and Dr. Abha Aggarwal steered their research to answer an obvious question.
"So we wondered if we could change the diet of mice with cancer and see if we could get a response," said Nehs.
The experiment lasted five weeks. Half the mice were fed a regular died, half what's known as ketogenic diet, which is high in protein, along with an antioxidant known as N-acetylcysteine or NAC.
"We think that by combining the ketogenic diet with N-acetylcysteine we're putting pressure on cancer cells from two directions," said Nehs.
The results in the mice getting both the diet change and drug: "Two of the mice did not show any tumor growth at all after the fifth week. And the four that showed the tumor was substantially reduced," said Aggarwal.
What's potentially exciting about this research in mice, beyond giving perhaps future hope to those with anaplastic thyroid cancer.
"It may translate to other cancers that are even less aggressive," said Nehs.
The researchers are definitely not advocating that everyone with cancer adopt a ketogenic diet. But it's a good idea for everyone -- even if you're not sick -- to cut our refined sugars and carbohydrates.
Bottom line is more research needs to be done.
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