A new study has revealed that a molecule found in human milk and animal products such as meat and dairy can infiltrate tumours and kill cancer cells. Researchers at the University of Chicago focused on a nutrient called trans-vaccenic acid (TVA), which they found to be influential in the fight against cancer. The findings were published in Nature.
The study involved an extensive analysis of hundreds of different nutrients and their effects on cancer cell growth and treatment efficacy. It was discovered that cancer patients with higher levels of TVA in their blood showed better responses to cancer treatments, highlighting its potential as a nutritional supplement.
However, the researchers also warned against overconsumption of beef and milk due to associated health risks like high cholesterol levels and heart disease. Interestingly, fatty cuts of beef and lamb, along with whole milk and full-fat dairy products, have higher levels of TVA compared to their lean or low-fat counterparts.
The real power of TVA lies in its ability to enhance the functionality of T cells, a crucial part of the immune system responsible for identifying and killing foreign invaders, including cancer cells. The idea of eating foods rich in this compound or using it as a supplement to shrink tumour sizes is a promising avenue of research.
Dr Jing Chen, the corresponding author of the study, emphasised the significance of nutrients that can activate T-cell responses. Her team conducted extensive research, including the analysis of a vast database of metabolites derived from food, to identify TVA as a key nutrient in activating the CD8+ T cells.
Further investigations revealed that TVA could deactivate a cell receptor called GPR43 and activate the CREB pathway, which plays a crucial role in cell growth and gene function. This discovery was bolstered by studies on mice, where a TVA-rich diet showed a reduced potential for melanoma and colon cancer cell growth.
In human studies, particularly in cancer patients undergoing T cell-modifying treatments for blood cancers like lymphoma, higher TVA levels were correlated with better treatment responses. Laboratory tests on leukaemia cells also showed that TVA enhanced the effectiveness of targeted therapy.
TVA is found in fat from milk and dairy-derived products like cheese and butter, as well as in beef and lamb. While these foods contain essential nutrients, overconsumption can lead to health risks such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. A balanced intake, possibly supplemented by other plant-based fatty acids, could offer the benefits of TVA without the associated risks.
This research opens up new possibilities for using TVA as a supplement in cancer therapies, particularly in T-cell-based treatments. However, Dr. Chen cautions against excessive consumption of meat and dairy for TVA intake, advocating for a balanced diet and potentially supplement-based approaches.