Over-the-Counter Supplement for Brain Cancer?

Arginine restores T cell ability to target cancer

(RxWiki News) Bodybuilders take L-arginine because the amino acid helps to build muscles. This over-the-counter supplement also helps to treat the deadliest form of brain cancer, glioblastoma.

Cancerous tumors have an ingenious way of suppressing the patient's immune symptom. This allows the cancer to thrive, out of harm's way of the immune system. This behavior is one of the reasons glioblastoma is so lethal.

A recent study shows that the amino acid arginine works to reenergize the immune system so it can attack the cancer cells.

"Let  your doctor know of all supplements and vitamins you're taking."

The University of Colorado Cancer Center study uncovered the fact that arginine reactivates the body's own natural cancer fighters - T-cells, a process authors say can "help cleanse the body of cancer."

Lead author, Allen Waziri, MD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, found T-cells from glioblastoma patients that were stimulated in the lab weren't effective in killing off cancer cells. When arginine was added, T-cell function was restored, according to Dr. Waziri.

The immune system shutting down has to do with the activity of what is known as neutrophils - a type of blood cell that attacks and kills invaders. After some immune system response, such as inflammation takes place, these cells figure no more work is needed.

The neutrophils secrete an enzyme called arginase which stops the immune response. In healthy people, once this happens, the cells die and are excreted out of the body. But in glioblastoma, these guys keep on producing the arginase which keeps the immune system tamped down.

Now T-cells rely on arginine to function. What Dr. Waziri's group found is that in glioblastoma, it's not the arginase that's at the heart of the problem, rather patients don't have enough arginine, which in turn means the immune system isn't functioning full tilt. 

Dr. Waziri is starting a phase 0 clinical trial to see if a week-long course of high-dose arginine can help the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.

The hope is that this research will lead to new therapies to treat this incurable disease and reduce its recurrence.

This study was featured in the November, 2011 edition of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

Review Date: 
December 2, 2011