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Short-Term Starvation May Improve Chemotherapy

Experiments suggest it protects normal cells, but not cancer cells, against high-dose chemotherapy

WEDNESDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- Short-term starvation can protect normal mammalian cells -- but not cancer cells -- against high-dose chemotherapy, according to a study published online March 31 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lizzia Raffaghello, Ph.D., of the Giannina Gaslini Institute in Genova, Italy, and colleagues studied the effects of incubating primary glial cells and six different rat and human glioma and neuroblastoma cancer cell lines in low-glucose or low-serum media to mimic the effects of short-term starvation. Then they treated the cells with cyclophosphamide. The investigators performed a similar experiment in mice that were injected with neuroblastoma cells and treated with the chemotherapy drug etoposide.

The researchers found that short-term starvation protected the primary glial cells -- but not the cancer cells -- against damage caused by cyclophosphamide. They also found that short-term starvation protected mice -- but not the injected neuroblastoma cells -- against a high dose of the chemotherapy drug etoposide.

"These results strongly suggest that short-term starvation achieved by lowering the concentration of glucose or other nutrients/factors contained in serum can be very effective in protecting normal but not cancer cells against chemotherapy," the authors write. "Naturally, we do not know whether such an elevated differential stress response can be achieved in cancer patients, but considering the results obtained with a single treatment with etoposide in mice bearing metastasis of the aggressive NXS2 neuroblastoma line that we injected, we are optimistic about the potential efficacy of multiple cycles of short-term starvation/etoposide treatment against different types of cancers."

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