News Releases

Dietary supplement could improve treatment of some blood cancers

March 7, 2019, New York—A study led by Nicola Vannini of Ludwig Cancer Research and Olaia Naveiras of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne  (EPFL) in Switzerland has found that dietary supplementation with nicotinamide riboside, an analogue of vitamin B3, dramatically boosts the production of blood cells by hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) in mice. This finding has the potential to significantly reduce the toxicity of chemotherapy in stem cell-based therapies for the treatment of leukemia and aggressive lymphomas if it translates to humans.

In such cases, the patient’s cancerous blood stem cells are removed and, if necessary, replaced with healthy ones from a donor. However, up to a quarter of cases end in death, often because blood cells are not replenished fast enough to prevent infections.

HSCs slow down in patients due to stress, which increases the activity of mitochondria, the energy-generating organelles of the cell: To meet the high demand of rebuilding blood cells, mitochondria in HSCs ramp up a process that generates fuel for the cell. But this also ages HSCs prematurely, causing the observed dysfunction.

The research team—which included many other scientists at the Lausanne branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, EPFL and the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV)—reports in the current issue of Cell Stem Cell that exposing human and mouse HSCs to an analogue of vitamin B3, nicotinamide riboside, boosts their function, ability to replace stressed-out mitochondria and to divide.

Fed to mice subjected to an irradiation procedure that eliminated their blood cells, the supplement improved their survival by 80% and accelerated blood recovery. In immunodeficient mice, it increased the production of immune cells. This is the first study to show that nicotinamide riboside as a dietary supplement has the potential to significantly ameliorate blood-recovery problems in cancer patients, even after chemo- or radio-therapy.

The EPFL release from which this summary is derived can be found here.


About Ludwig Cancer Research

Ludwig Cancer Research is an international collaborative network of acclaimed scientists that has pioneered cancer research and landmark discovery for more than 40 years. Ludwig combines basic science with the ability to translate its discoveries and conduct clinical trials to accelerate the development of new cancer diagnostics and therapies. Since 1971, Ludwig has invested $2.7 billion in life-changing science through the not-for-profit Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the six U.S.-based Ludwig Centers. To learn more, visit

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