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Ludwig researchers find withholding an amino acid from diet depletes blood stem cells

Oct 20, 2016

A dietary approach to depleting blood stem cells may make it possible to conduct bone marrow transplantations without chemotherapy or radiation therapy, according to researchers at the Ludwig Center at Stanford and the University of Tokyo. The discovery, published online in Science, may also permit the treatment of certain cancers without reliance on such toxic treatments. 

Led by Ludwig Stanford investigator Hiromitsu Nakauchi and Satoshi Yamazaki of the University of Tokyo, the study found that a diet deficient in the essential amino acid valine can effectively deplete blood stem cells in mice, permitting their replacement with blood stem cells from other mice. Human blood stem cells in the laboratory were similarly affected by a lack of valine, suggesting the approach may work in humans as well.

The effects of a valine-deficient diet are not nearly as widespread or extreme as those of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. They appear to be relatively specific to blood stem cells, says Nakauchi, but some other types of stem cells may also be affected. If leukemia stem cells are also vulnerable to valine deficiency, the new approach may open the door to a dietary therapy for these blood cancers.

Nakauchi’s method complements other work recently reported by Ludwig Stanford scientists, in which antibodies were used to clear out blood stem cells from mice. “The two methods might even be used together to provide an even more effective, gentler therapy,” says Nakauchi. The mechanism by which amino acid deficiency affects blood stem cells is unknown, he says, and this will be a focus of future research in his laboratory.

The full article from which this news release has been summarized is available here.