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Fasting Before Chemo Protects Healthy Cells
Date:4/1/2008

Two days without food primed them for chemical onslaught and exposed cancer cells, study finds

TUESDAY, April 1 (HealthDay News) -- Fasting for two days before chemotherapy might protect cancer patients against the toxic side effects of these powerful drugs by shielding healthy cells while dooming malignant cells to destruction, new research suggests.

"The side effects of chemotherapy are one of the major obstacles in fighting the cancer, and this provides a calculated method to protect the great majority of non-cancerous cells," said study co-author Valter D. Longo, an associate professor of biological sciences at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the Norris Cancer Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The finding, which stems from test-tube work and experiments with yeast and mice, is part of a broad effort to explore ways to reduce the collateral damage that chemotherapy typically produces.

Although not yet replicated among patients, the preliminary animal research is encouraging: As little as 48 hours of starvation afforded mice injected with brain cancer cells the ability to endure and benefit from extremely high doses of chemotherapy that non-starved mice could not survive.

The finding was published in the March 31 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Longo noted that the idea first came from a different field of research: anti-aging science.

"We had found that healthy cells have a 'shield mode' -- a kind of protective strategy that allows the organism to be resistant to not just one but dozens of threats and stresses, including starvation," he said. "So we thought this characteristic might be a way to distinguish between normal cells and cancer cells when applying chemotherapy. And it turns out that it works for yeast, for human cells in test tubes, and here, in mice."

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