A diet to starve cancer?
I saw the title of William Li’s TED talk “Can We Eat To Starve Cancer?”, and I was doubtful about its subject matter. Sure, there’s plenty of evidence that shows the role of diet in the prevention of cancer. Eat lots of fiber, limit your red meat intake, and avoid asbestos sandwiches 🙂 On the other hand, there’s a lot of quacks and woo peddlers out there claiming you can cure cancer solely by changing your diet. So where does this talk fall?
What Li says about tumor growth being limited by angiogenesis is absolutely correct. As he mentioned, a number of anti-angiogenesis drugs such as Avastin have been developed and used successfully to fight cancer. It’s a promising area of research. As a side note, the enzyme I’m studying in hydrogels, MMP-2, plays a role in angiogenesis. Its function is to degrade extracellular matrix and create space for new tissue and blood vessels to grow.
Li’s extrapolation of in vitro findings to a definitive clinical outcome is a bit overstated at this point in the research. Exposing artificially grown blood vessels to a dietary compound and measuring angiogenesis is a good way to begin studying this question, and his results show promise. However, the in vitro environment and actual living beings are two very different things. The in vivo environment is not only going to include blood vessels, but organs, hormones, signals, not all of which are entirely understood. In fairness, he cites the tomato consumption-prostate cancer study. He mentions that the men who did develop prostate cancer had fewer blood vessels at the tumor site, but he doesn’t mention if that was tied to tumor size or clinical outcomes. In addition, the positive effects of lycopene can’t be assumed for every dietary angiogenesis inhibitor. Li says he’s doing more research in human subjects, which is absolutely the right direction to go in.
So can eating foods with anti-angiogenic compounds prevent cancer? We don’t know yet, but it’s at least plausible and has some decent preliminary research . I’ll keep checking back on the research every now and then.