Scientists may have found the missing link within a new class of hopeful cancer drugs that target PI3K to reduce tumor growth.

Combining these drugs with a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat, widely known as the ketogenic diet, may increase its anti-tumor effects across various forms of cancer, including mesothelioma.

You may have heard about the ketogenic, or “keto” diet for weight loss or blood-sugar management, but probably never for mesothelioma.

However, scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and New York Presbyterian believe the keto diet is the key to unlocking the full potential of a new class of cancer drugs.

What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet — a low carb diet or low carb high fat (LCHF) — is a well-known diet commonly used to manage weight, control blood sugar, increase energy or improve cholesterol and blood pressure.

It causes the body to use fats over glucose (found in carbs) as the main form of energy.

The keto diet puts the body into ketosis — a natural process the body initiates when food intake is low. Instead of using glucose as energy and storing fats, bodies in a ketosis state have no glucose available so they are forced to run off stored fat instead.

This state is not maintained through a calorie deficit but through starvation of carbohydrates.

The keto diet is:

  • High in fat (70%)
  • Moderate in protein (25%)
  • Low in carbs (5%)

In the keto diet, you remove the following foods:

  • All grains (wheat, rice, corn, etc.)
  • Sugar (honey, agave, etc.)
  • Fruit (oranges, bananas, apples, etc.)
  • Tubers (yams, potatoes, etc.)

Individuals on the diet can eat various meats, leafy greens, above-ground vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), nuts and seeds, high-fat dairy, avocado, berries, and other fats (coconut oil, salad dressing, etc.).

Link Between the Ketogenic Diet and Mesothelioma Treatment

A study funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) has provided possible reasoning for why drugs that target the insulin-activated enzyme phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) are not performing as well as expected.

The study was conducted on mice, but further investigations will integrate the findings into human clinical trials.

Mutations within PI3K have been linked back to many cancers, including mesothelioma. The high rate of mutations within this gene has made it an appealing focus for targeted therapies. If the PI3K pathway is turned off, a reduction in the growth of cancer cells should be seen as a response.

Over 20 therapies that inhibit the PI3K enzyme have been tested within clinical trials, but so far the results have been disappointing.

Ketogenic Diet Manages Elevated Insulin Levels

In the NIH study, researchers show that once the PI3K pathway is turned off, the body elevates insulin levels as a response, thus turning the PI3K pathway back on. This re-activation of PI3K in the tumor mass makes the new class of drugs ineffective. A professor involved in the study elaborated on this point by saying “the rebound elevation in insulin is rescuing the tumor from death.”

This observation led researchers to find ways to manage blood sugar and insulin levels within the mice. Alongside PI3K inhibitors, the mice were treated with two diabetes drugs or the ketogenic diet. The keto diet performed better in preventing glucose and insulin spikes—as a result, it reduced tumor growth signals.

Integrating the Ketogenic Diet Into Cancer Treatment Plans

This study is a truly innovative approach to the treatment of cancer.

It combines the power of human metabolism and targeted drugs to make tumor cells more susceptible to therapy. The researchers are very excited to integrate this new approach to human trials.

The next step will be to research whether combining an FDA-approved PI3K inhibitor with a specially prepared keto diet, is both safe and effective for managing mesothelioma, breast cancer, leukemia, and lymphomas.

If you’re interested in participating in targeted therapy clinical trials for mesothelioma, contact our Patient Advocates today.

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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  1. Cornell Chronicle, “Low-carb, high-fat diet may boost targeted cancer therapy.” Retrieved from: Accessed on July 22, 2018.

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