Let's get this straight, right at the start: If you have cancer your outlook is probably worse if that cancer cell population has lost its ability to produce the metabolic regulator PKCζ. It's a bad news deletion.
We are looking at this paper (via David Ramsay, I think):
Control of Nutrient Stress-Induced Metabolic Reprogramming by PKCζ in Tumorigenesis
If you were remotely considering a ketogenic diet as a therapy for cancer management I think you might rightly be interested in the paper. Unfortunately it's quite technical (TL;DR perhaps Heather Buschman?) so perhaps it might be easier to go to the article in ScienceDaily for the take-home message. So initially let's look at the press release, the summary from which says this:
"Many scientists have tried killing tumors by taking away their favorite food, a sugar called glucose. Unfortunately, this treatment approach not only fails to work, it backfires--glucose-starved tumors get more aggressive. In a new study, researchers discovered that the protein PKCζ is responsible for this paradox. The research suggests that glucose depletion therapies might work, as long as the cancer cells produce PKCζ"
There are some pretty sweeping and unsupported statements here. If you actually read the paper itself you will find that there is a mass of information derived from cell culture under extreme (zero glucose, high glutamate) conditions which, while it does allow picking out the details of why PKCζ deletion might be so bad, tells you little about real life progression of cancer.
The group made two attempts to transfer their information from cell culture to something resembling real life. One approach was that they investigated, observationally, humans with colorectal cancer.
They found that in these people the outlook is worse if their particular cancer is PKCζ negative. Fair enough. However, attempted glucose restriction applied to humans with colorectal cancer is not exactly a widespread practice and was not mentioned in these patients. So it seems to be a reasonable assumption that those folks with PKCζ negative cancers are dying at an accelerated rate under glucose replete conditions, not under the conditions used in cell culture experiments. But we don't know for sure, there is no information about the blood chemistry or nutritional management of the patients.
The epic fail in the paper comes with the obligatory mouse model, tacked on near the end.
All you have to do is to mate cancer prone mice with mice which are PKCζ negative and a proportion of their offspring will be cancer prone and either PKCζ positive or negative. You can then test your hypothesis that glucose restriction promotes aggressive growth in PKCζ negative cancer prone mice, whose cancers will clearly be PKCζ negative too.
This should be easy.
Just feed the PKCζ negative mice something like that lovely F3666 ketogenic diet and compare them to those fed standard crapinabag. Obviously the low glucose levels from the ketogenic diet will promote early death in the PKCζ negative group as metabolism switches from glucose to glutamine and the cells develop an aggressive phenotype. The cell cultures say this will happen.
But they didn't do this. They actually fed D12079B vs crapinabag.
What is D12079B, you may ask, that you would use it to show that glucose restriction is Badness for PKCζ negative cancer victims?
D12079B is a typical Western Diet, sucrose/butter derived and is specifically marketed to produce metabolic syndrome in mice. Hyperglycaemia with hyperinsulinaemia. The exact, absolute, reliable opposite of the zero glucose used in all of the cell culture work.
Under glucose excess the animals with PKCζ knockout SHOULD have done at least as well as those on crapinabag, because all the cell culture work showed excess cancer growth during glucose RESTRICTION.
But this didn't happen. Under glucose excess the PKCζ knockouts died fastest of all the groups examined.
Let's just emphasise: At no point did the researchers attempt to limit glucose supply in anything even remotely resembling a live animal.
Does glucose restriction promote and aggressive cancer phenotype through a switch to glutamine metabolism, outside of cell culture?
No one knows. Certainly not the authors of the paper and don't get me started on the press release scribbler.
Personally I'm cautious about ketogenic diets in cancer. I'd expect them to do some good but only time will tell how much good and in which cancers.
But I can see a cop-out in a research paper a mile off. Did they try a few mice on F3666 and fail to report it because F3666 was protective? Or did they simply not dare test their hypothesis? At some stage there was a meeting of the senior researchers where the (extremely expensive) transition to a mouse model was discussed. They did not just stick a needle in a list of diets to choose D12079B. Years of work suggested looking at glucose restriction. They deliberately did the opposite. I shake my head in disbelief.