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Baking soda research could help treat cancer

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UA Associate Professor Mark "Marty" Pagel, far right, with chemical engineering student Michelle Benson, left, and University of Arizona Cancer Center student Tony Ward. Pagel's MRI method produces an image that maps the acid content in tissues, which enables doctors to monitor the effectiveness of personalized treatments such as baking soda on tumors and normal tissue, and could even predict the effectiveness of chemotherapies before the patient starts the medication. UA Biomedical Engineering photo.

Baking soda could eventually help treat breast cancer, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health allowing the matter to be investigated further.

UA biomedical engineering researchers will use most of the $2 million grant to study the effectiveness of baking soda to help treat breast cancer. The researchers will investigate whether baking soda may be able to elminate tumors that start in one part of the body and spread to others.

By measuring the multiple stages of the tumor, doctors can observe the effectiveness of using a baking soda treatment on both tumors and healthy tissue. They may also be able to predict the effectiveness of chemotherapies before patients start using certain cancer medications.

“We’ve tested that type of therapy in a number of animal models that have different cancers, and we’ve seen a decrease in the number of tumors they have,” said Marty Pagel, an associate professor of biomedical engineering. “It prolongs their survival.”

The grant will also go toward the study of a new magnetic resonance imaging method for measuring the acidity or basicity levels, or “pH,” of a tumor that has been discovered, but not yet treated. As for why measuring the acidity or basicity in a tumor is essential, some drugs only work at the right pH, according to Jennifer Barton, a professor and head of the biomedical engineering department.

“Patients can actually change their body’s pH to make their cancer drugs more effective,” she said. “It can be as simple as drinking baking soda, but this process has to be carefully monitored.”

Specifically, the baking soda counteracts lactic acid — the same substance muscles produce during exercise — which is produced by tumors when they are actively growing, Pagel said.

The acid destroys surrounding tissue, allowing the tumor to grow, invade surrounding areas and spread to other organs in the body. Lactic acid in tumors also resist common chemotherapies, according to Pagel. Baking soda would help treat all of this.

Drinking baking soda has already been proven to reduce or eliminate the spread of breast cancer to the lungs, brain and bone. However, too much baking soda can damage normal organs, so researchers warn that this is not something to try at home.

The research could also apply a chemical agent that is already used in clinical X-ray imaging to MRI studies, Pagel said. This would allow clinical trials to begin without approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Baking soda has been found to have other health benefits. In 2009, a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology said that a daily dose of baking soda improves nutrition and slows the decline of kidney function in some patients with advanced chronic kidney disease.

“This cheap and simple strategy also improves patients’ nutritional status, and has the potential of translating into significant economic, quality of life and clinical outcome benefits,” said Dr. Magdi Yaqoob of the Royal London Hospital.


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