In a new study from Weill Cornell Medicine, researchers found treatment with arginine, one of the amino-acid building blocks of proteins, enhanced the effectiveness of radiation therapy in cancer patients with brain metastases.
They reported the results of administering arginine, which can be delivered in oral form, prior to standard radiation therapy in 31 patients who had brain metastases.
Nearly 78% had a complete or partial response in their brain tumors over the follow-up period of up to four years, while only 22% of the 32 patients who received a placebo prior to radiotherapy had such a response.
Arginine, also called L-arginine, is inexpensive and widely available, generally considered safe, and can get relatively easily from the bloodstream into the brain.
The idea of using it to treat cancer arose from observations that tumors often aid their own survival by producing high levels of the related molecule nitric oxide (NO).
In the clinical trial, patients were treated with high-dose arginine or placebo oral suspensions an hour before radiotherapy for their brain metastases—tumors in the brain that represent the spread from primary tumors elsewhere, such as the lungs.
Six months after their courses of radiotherapy, 82%of the arginine group had improvement, or at least no worsening, of their neurological symptoms, compared with 20% in the placebo group.
Most of the arginine-treated patients who died during the study did so because of their cancers’ spread elsewhere in the body.
Moreover, although metastatic cancer usually has a dire prognosis, there were some arginine-treated patients whose tumors in and outside the brain disappeared, suggesting the possibility of cures.
Evidence from this study and prior research also suggests that arginine can not only directly hobble tumor cells but also boost the activity of antitumor immune cells.
The promising results have prompted the team to start and plan further studies of arginine on its own or in combination with other anticancer treatments.
The team suggests that further studies are needed and patients should consult their doctor about the use of any supplements outside of a clinical trial.
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The study is published in Science Advances. One author of the study is Dr. Leandro Cerchietti.
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