Receiving a bone marrow transplant is a very difficult and dangerous procedure that leukemia patients usually have to go through in an effort to beat the disease. Unlike organ transplants, in order to become a bone marrow receiver, one must have zero blood cells. This is essential because the transplant will produce new, healthy ones. Thus, the old cells that, in the case of leukemia, carry the disease should be wiped off the individual’s body.Bone Marrow
The intensity and the degree to which this whole preparation and the transplantation weaken the human body become apparent by statistics: about 5% of patients die during one of the two phases. Fortunately, this situation is probably about to change.
An international team of researchers from the Universities of Stanford and Tokyo made an amazing discovery. According to the results of their study, removing a single amino acid from the diet of lab mice was enough for the complete halt of new blood cell production. This may sound like a very bad idea and many of you are probably wondering why would anyone want to do this on purpose, but we have to keep in mind that it is something that we are trying to achieve in the first place through chemotherapy and radiation, both of which lead to the outcome described above.
The amino acid that can literally transform the way we are dealing with bone marrow transplant procedures is called valine. The scientific team is not yet sure why its absence triggers such an effect, but so far it appears that it is the only chemical substance that controls blood cell production.
When compared to the methods used so far (radiation & chemo), valine deprivation appears to have huge advantages. Mice that undergo radiation treatment become very ill and unable to reproduce. Most of them live one year or less after being irradiated. In contrast, most of the mice that followed the “tweaked” diet appear perfectly healthy and are also able to reproduce.
However, there is also a negative element. A few mice died when they followed the aforementioned diet after showing signs of malnutrition. This is something that should be studied extensively since any type of diet that causes such an effect is unacceptable, especially for such a sensitive issue as bone marrow transplantation.
It is certain that this new breakthrough will improve our understanding of many medical subjects and may also appear extremely valuable as a direct weapon against leukemia. All we have to do is wait for more detailed study results and the first human trials.