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BC Biologist Buoyed by Findings That Nontoxic Therapy Combination May Slow Cancer’s Spread

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (June 2013)—Looking for new ways to help the body fight cancer, Boston College Professor of Biology Thomas Seyfried’s research has targeted the metabolism of the disease, seeking ways to deprive tumors of the nutrients that support their deadly spread.

Thomas Seyfried
Thomas Seyfried

The biochemist’s colleagues at the University of South Florida, citing Seyfried’s groundbreaking work in the field, report this week that the combination of two nontoxic therapies showed they could extend the survival time of mice afflicted with late-stage metastic cancer.

The combination of a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet and hyperbaric oxygen therapy served to counteract the nutritional and oxygen demands of metastatic tumors in laboratory mice and increase their survival times by nearly 80 percent, according to the findings, reported this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

The new study points to the potential for significant anti-cancer effects from combining the ketogenic diet, which effectively starves tumors of the sugar upon which they feed, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which reverses the cancer promoting effects of oxygen deprivation within tumor cells, according to the researchers. The study was conducted in a natural model of cancer metastasis making the findings directly relevant to the human condition.

“The findings present a non-toxic therapeutic strategy for reducing the systemic spread of tumor cells throughout the body, which is the leading cause of cancer death in humans,” said Seyfried, who developed the experimental mouse model used by the UCF team.

Seyfried, who has closely studied the benefits of the ketogenic diet, and other researchers focused on cancer metabolism have sought ways to target the supply of glucose upon which tumors depend to grow and metastasize. The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that decreases blood glucose and elevates blood ketones, which recent research has shown can slow cancer progression in animals and humans.

Research into tumor biology has shown the vascular structures of tumors create hypoxic pockets that play a key role in cancer’s progression and further exacerbate the glycolytic dependency of cancers. By saturating tumors with oxygen, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can reverse the effects of tumor hypoxia, according to lead author Angela Poff and co-author Dominic P. D’Agostino, a molecular physiologist at the University of South Florida.

In laboratory tests using the mouse model of systemic metastasis, the researchers compared tumor progression and survival times in mice fed a standard ketogenic diet – both with and without a compliment of hyperbaric therapy – and found that the diet alone significantly decreased blood glucose, slowed tumor growth and increased survival time by almost 57 percent in mice with systemic metastatic cancer, the leading cause of cancer death.

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy alone did not influence cancer progression, when it was combined with the ketogenic diet, researchers found significant declines in blood glucose and tumor growth, and a 77.9 percent increase in mean survival time when compared with a control group.

—Ed Hayward is an associate director of the Office of News & Public Affairs;