Public Release:  BC biologists identify alternative brain cancer treatment

High-fat, low-carbohydrate diet significantly slows tumor growth and enhances health in mice

Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., Feb. 21 - Boston College biologists have identified an alternative, diet-based method of treating brain cancer that does not involve administering toxic chemicals, radiation or invasive surgery.

The biologists found that KetoCal, a commercially available high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet designed to treat epilepsy in children, can significantly decrease the growth of brain tumors in laboratory mice. Moreover, the diet significantly enhanced health and survival rates relative to mice in control groups who consumed a standard low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

The findings were based on a study published this week in the online journal Nutrition & Metabolism.

"KetoCal represents a novel alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer," said Boston College Biology Professor Tom Seyfried, who conceived and supervised the study. "While the tumors did not vanish in the mice who received the strict KetoCal diet, they got significantly smaller and the animals lived significantly longer. And compared to radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, KetoCal is a relatively inexpensive treatment option."

Malignant brain cancer is one of the most lethal types of cancer in adults and is the second leading cause of cancer death in children. Many current ways of treating the disease fail to provide long-term management because they ineffectively target tumor cells and harm the health and vitality of normal brain cells.

The KetoCal diet gets around this dilemma by essentially starving the brain tumor cells of the sugary molecules on which they rely for growth and survival. Because of its special composition, the diet deprives the tumor cells of the glucose they need; at the same time, the diet provides normal brain cells with ketones, a class of organic compounds they can metabolize effectively but the tumor cells cannot.

In their experiment, the BC team surgically implanted two different kinds of tumors into the brains of male mice. The mice were then divided into three groups. One group was fed a high-carbohydrate mouse chow, one was given unlimited amounts of KetoCal, and the final group was given KetoCal in a restricted dosage.

The researchers found that in the mice on the restricted diet, KetoCal decreased the growth of brain tumors by between 35 percent and 65 percent. Moreover, survival rates were higher in the mice on the restricted diet.

"This preclinical study indicates that KetoCal is a safe and effective diet therapy and should be considered as an alternative therapeutic option for malignant brain cancer," the researchers wrote.

KetoCal is manufactured by Nutricia North America. The study authors report they have no financial interests in the company, although it did provide the KetoCal used in the experiments as a gift.

The journal article's lead author is Weihua Zhou, a research technician in the Boston College Biology Department. Co-authors include Seyfried, Purna Mukherjee, Michael Kiebish, William Markis and John Mantis.

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