Popular vitamin supplement causes cancer risk and brain metastases
University of Missouri researchers made the discovery while using bioluminescence imaging technology to study how nicotinamide riboside supplements work in the body.
Commercial dietary supplements such as nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, have been associated with cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological health benefits in previous studies. However, new research from the University of Missouri (MU) has shown that NR may actually increase the risk of serious diseases, including developing cancer.
Supplements containing nicotinamide riboside are often marketed as NAD+ boosters with claimed benefits including increased energy, anti-aging/longevity/healthy aging, improved metabolism and cellular energy repair, increased vitality, and improved heart health.
Scientists have found that high levels of NR can not only increase a person’s risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, but can also cause the cancer to metastasize, or spread to the brain. The international team of researchers was led by Elena Goun, associate professor of chemistry at MU and corresponding author of the study. She said that when cancer reaches the brain, the results are deadly because there are currently no viable treatment options.
“Some take them [vitamins and supplements] because they automatically assume that vitamins and supplements have only positive health benefits, but very little is known about how they actually work,” Goun said. “Because of this lack of knowledge, we were inspired to study fundamental questions about how vitamins and supplements work in the body.”
Following the death of her 59-year-old father just three months after she was diagnosed with colon cancer, Goun was moved by her father’s death to seek a better scientific understanding of cancer metabolism, the energy by which cancer spreads in the body. Since NR is a known supplement to increase cellular energy levels, and cancer cells feed on that energy through their increased metabolism, Goun wanted to investigate the role of NR in cancer development and spread.
“Our work is particularly important given the wide commercial availability and large number of ongoing human clinical trials in which NR is used to alleviate the side effects of cancer therapy in patients,” Goun said.
The researchers used this technology to compare and examine how many levels of NR are present in cancer cells, T cells and healthy tissues.
“While NR is already widely used in humans and is being investigated in many ongoing clinical trials for additional applications, much of how NR works is a black box — it’s not understood,” Goun said. “This inspired us to come up with this new imaging technique based on ultra-sensitive bioluminescent imaging that allows real-time quantification of NR levels in a non-invasive manner. The presence of NR is indicated by light, and the brighter it is, the more NR is present.”
Goun said the study’s findings underscore the importance of carefully researching potential side effects for supplements like NR before using them in people who may have a variety of medical conditions. In the future, Goun would like to provide information that could potentially lead to the development of certain inhibitors to make cancer therapies like chemotherapy more effective in treating cancer. The key to this approach, Goun said, is looking at it from the perspective of personalized medicine.
“Not all cancers are the same in every person, especially from a metabolic signature standpoint,” Goun said. “Often cancer can even change its metabolism before or after chemotherapy.”
Reference: “Bioluminescent probe for in vivo non-invasive monitoring of nicotinamide riboside uptake reveals a link between metastasis and NAD+ metabolism” Tamara Marić, Arkadiy Bazhin, Pavlo Khodakivskyi, Georgij Mihajlov, Ekaterina Solodnikova, Aleksey Yevtodiyenko, Greta Maria, Paola, Giordano, Giordano Covinga, Jordano Coving, Jordano , Carles Cantó and Elena Goun, 29 October 2022, Biosensors and bioelectronics.
Other authors include Arkadiy Bazhin, Pavlo Khodakivsky, Ekaterina Solodnikova, and Alexey Yevtodiyenko from MU; Tamara Marić at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology; Greta Maria Paola Giordano Attianese, George Coukos and Melita Irving at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Switzerland; and Magali Joffraud and Carles Cantó at the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences in Switzerland. Bazhin, Khodakivskyi, Mikhaylov, Solodnikova, Yevtodiyenko and Goun are also affiliated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Mikhaylov, Yevtodiyenko and Goun are also associated with SwissLumix SARL in Switzerland.
Funding was provided by grants from the European Research Council (ERC-2019-COG, 866338) and the Swiss National Foundation (51NF40_185898), as well as support from NCCR Chemical Biology.
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