University of Iowa study tests ketogenic diet for lung and pancreatic cancers

IOWA CITY - Researchers with UI Health Care have received a two-year, $340,023 grant from the National Cancer Institute to investigate whether a ketogenic diet can increase the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy for lung and pancreatic cancer.

Despite advances in chemotherapy and radiation, the prognosis for locally advanced nonsmall cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and pancreatic cancer remain poor. The new study, led by UI researchers Douglas Spitz, Ph.D., John Buatti, M.D., Daniel Berg, M.D., and Sudershan Bhatia, M.D., Ph.D., aims to exploit a fundamental flaw in cancer cell metabolism to improve outcomes for patients with these cancers.

Relative to normal cells, cancer cells require more glucose to overcome a defect in their mitochondrial metabolism. The ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, deprives cancer cells of glucose and forces them to rely on their flawed mitochondrial metabolism. This causes oxidative stress in the cancer cells and appears to make them more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiation.

Ketogenic diets are relatively nontoxic for people and have been used safely for years to treat epilepsy. The researchers will test whether adding the ketogenic diet to patients' standard cancer treatment can significantly improve outcomes for patients with lung and pancreatic cancer.