Our 2019 grantees

Meet the scientists whose research projects, from avocados to high-intensity interval training, were chosen by our 2018 Grant Review Panel for funding starting this New Year.

Breast Cancer

Maryam Farvid

Maryam Farvid

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Beverage consumption and breast cancer survival by molecular subtypes and hormone receptor status.

Drinks can have both positive and negative effects on our health but the impact of beverage choices on the health of cancer survivors is unclear. This study looks to see if the consumption of different types of beverages has an effect in a large group of breast cancer patients. The researchers hypothesize that coffee and tea consumption will improve survivorship, while sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages will have a negative impact.

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Erik R. Nelson

Erik R. Nelson

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The impact of a cholesterol metabolite on breast cancer dormancy and recurrence.

Breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in women. Breast cancer can recur many years after completion of therapy, and it is believed that long-dormant cancer cells are responsible. There are no evidence-based strategies to prevent these recurrences. This study seeks to examine how dietary cholesterol, and one of its breakdown products, may allow cells to escape from dormancy. The researchers will use established experimental models of cancer dormancy to determine if increased dietary cholesterol reduces the time that the cancer spends dormant in the body.

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Vered Stearns

Vered Stearns

Johns Hopkins University
Mechanisms underlying the protective effect of exercise on primary mammary tumor growth and metastases: Role of metabolic and immune-mediated processes.

Women with early stage breast cancer who have obesity at the time of diagnosis or gain weight after diagnosis often experience worse outcomes compared to those in the healthy weight range. This project will test an intervention to help these women who have the most difficulty losing weight. A group of women who do not meet the targeted weight loss after eight weeks of lifestyle changes will be given an FDA approved weight-loss medication and compared to a group of women not given the medication.

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Cancer Survivors

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried

Wendy Demark-Wahnefried

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Daughters, mothers and others against cancer.

Obesity, inactivity and poor diet habits are common among cancer survivors. This project will examine whether habits can be improved using a web- and text-message based initiative that promotes healthy weight, physical activity and a healthful, plant-based diet among cancer survivors and their partners Improving these factors could help prevent cancer in the partners and improve outcomes in cancer patients. The researchers hypothesize that this eHealth-type intervention will significantly improve physical activity and diet quality among both cancer survivors and their partners.

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Christina Dieli-Conwright

Christina Dieli-Conwright

University of Southern California
High-intensity interval training to improve cognitive function in breast cancer survivors undergoing chemotherapy.

“Chemo brain” is a term used for the thinking and memory problems experienced by many people during and sometimes after chemotherapy. This research will address whether exercise can improve brain function. Participants will follow a 16-week aerobic exercise program designed for breast cancer survivors. The researchers will assess whether this exercise program can significantly reduce the cognitive problems associated with chemotherapy compared to a control group who does not follow the exercise program.

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Colorectal Cancer

Daniel Rosenberg

Daniel Rosenberg

University of Connecticut Health Center
Ellagic acid, urolithins and microbial communities associated with colonic neoplasia.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both sexes in the U.S. The bacteria that live in our digestive tract can dramatically alter how we metabolize our food, including components that may protect us from cancer. This clinical study will examine how gut bacteria affect how patients metabolize ellagic acid into beneficial antioxidants called urolithins. Ellagic acid is commonly found in various fruits and nuts and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by controlling inflammation in the digestive tract.

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Leukemia

Paul Spagnuolo

Paul Spagnuolo

University of Guelph
Avocado consumption for the prevention of relapse in acute myeloid leukemia.

Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) accounts for approximately 5% of all childhood cancers. Current drug therapies are effective at killing AML cells but there is a high rate of recurrence after treatment. Researchers at the University of Guelph are investigating a compound, found in avocados, that could specifically target the cancer cells responsible for AML recurrence. Eating only one avocado per day could provide enough of this compound help lower the risk for recurrence of AML.

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Ovarian Cancer

Sharon Stack

Sharon Stack

University of Notre Dame
Starving peritoneal metastases to impact ovarian cancer outcomes.

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancers. This project will address how obesity affects response to therapy in models of ovarian cancer that has spread. The researchers hypothesize that changes in the body due to obesity will impact how tumors continue to grow and spread in the body. They will test whether diet-induced obesity affects response to the current standard treatment and whether a new combination therapy aimed at blocking fat synthesis and use by tumor cells improves response.

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Meet the Scientists: Our 2018 grantees

How can coffee reduce the risk of cancer? Can obesity aggravate and exercise mitigate the likelihood of radiation-induced leukemia? Does obesity in men raise vulnerability to colorectal cancer? Although immunotherapy is a huge advance in cancer treatment, why is it that many patients do not respond to this treatment? Meet the scientists who are exploring important links between modifiable lifestyle factors, and cancer prevention and survivorship.

Blood/Bone Marrow/Lymph Cancer

Michael De Lisio

De Lisio, Michael, Ph.D.

University of Ottawa, Faculty of Medicine
The effects of obesity and exercise on radiation-induced leukemia

Dr. De Lisio’s project addresses the important issue of late effects of cancer therapy. Specifically, he and his team will evaluate how obesity and exercise mitigate the risk of radiation-induced leukemia. Growing numbers of long-term cancer survivors means that the late effects of therapy, including radiation-induced cancers, are a major health concern. They want to know if obesity increases the risk of developing blood cancers following radiation exposure, and if exercise can mitigate this risk. They will use mice to test the effects of diet-induced obesity and exercise on radiation-induced blood cancer. They expect to identify obesity as a factor that increases radiation-induced blood cancer risk, and introduce exercise as a viable intervention to decrease this risk.

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Breast Cancer

Connie Rogers

Rogers, Connie, Ph.D.

The Pennsylvania State University
Mechanisms underlying the protective effect of exercise on primary mammary tumor growth and metastases: Role of metabolic and immune-mediated processes

This proposal will address the issue of the "dose" or amount of diet and exercise necessary to achieve a cancer prevention effect, specifically with respect to breast cancer prevention. Currently, it is not known how much exercise (dose, duration, frequency) or how much dietary restriction is needed for cancer prevention. Dr. Rogers and her team hypothesize that mild dietary restriction and increased physical activity will have additive effects to prevent breast cancer. They will use an animal model of breast cancer to test our hypotheses and study mechanisms. These studies will provide critical information about the amount of calorie reduction and physical activity necessary to achieve a cancer prevention effect.

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Colorectal Cancer

Angela Murphy

Murphy, Angela, Ph.D.

University of South Carolina
Sex-specific differences in obesity enhanced colorectal cancer

Obese men are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than their female counterparts. Dr. Murphy will examine estrogen’s regulation of inflammation as a potential mechanism for this response. Understanding the mechanisms that drive the sex-specific differences in obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer will help develop targeted treatments. Their hypothesis stipulates that estrogen's regulation of inflammation is responsible for the sex-specific differences in obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer. Using estrogen manipulation techniques and mouse models, the team will examine the role of estrogen in obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer. The use of hormone replacement therapy to prevent the inflammatory response that is associated with obesity may play a critical role in colorectal cancer prevention.

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Multiple Sites Cancer

James Fleet

Fleet, James, Ph.D.

Purdue University
Regulation of tumor cell evasion from immune surveillance by vitamin D

The goal of immunotherapy for cancer is to stimulate the patients’ own immune system to find and destroy the cancer cells. Unfortunately, the tumor cells can evade immune surveillance - this makes immunotherapy less effective. Immunotherapy is a huge advance in cancer treatment but many patients do not respond to it. Dr. Fleet’s team hypothesizes that low vitamin D status alters the immune system in ways that help tumors evade immune surveillance. Through the use of mice, they will test whether low vitamin D signaling makes it harder for the immune system to attack tumor cells. This research is an early test of a simple intervention that might improve the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy.

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Pancreatic Cancer

Jeanine Genkinger

Genkinger, Jeanine, Ph.D.

Columbia University
Weight Loss, Gain, and Cycling, Dietary and Lifestyle Patterns and Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer incidence is increasing and 50% of people die within 6 months of diagnosis. Few modifiable factors are known to lower pancreatic cancer incidence. Diet and obesity may be important, yet the effects of weight changes, or following dietary guidelines on pancreatic cancer are not known. Dr. Genkinger will examine whether 1) weight loss, gain and cycling and 2) adherence to dietary and lifestyle patterns affects pancreatic cancer risk. Merging data from over 12 cohorts, the team will study diet, body weight and pancreatic cancer in the Pooling Project of Prospective Studies of Diet and Cancer. By addressing these research questions, the results will provide the most complete evidence on these important factors, and advance knowledge about these factors for a highly fatal disease.

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Prostate Cancer

Edward Giovannucci

Giovannucci, Edward, M.D., Sc.D.

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
Association between lifestyle factors and tumor angiogenesis in prostate cancer

Prostate cancers vary widely in their ability to progress. One of the important factors for growth and progression is the tumor’s ability to stimulate the development of blood vessels to nourish it. If we find ways to inhibit development of new blood vessels, called “angiogenesis”, we can prevent prostate cancer from progressing. Some dietary factors have been linked to increasing and decreasing the growth of new blood vessels. Dr. Giovannucci will examine how dietary factors are associated with the degree of blood vessels in the tumor, measured among men with how have had their prostate removed. This study will inform on novel prostate cancer prevention strategies through diet so that, in future, men could be advised which dietary factors may help prevent prostate cancer from progressing.

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Kathryn Wilson

Wilson, Kathryn, Sc.D.

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
Coffee intake and advanced prostate cancer: studying risk and mechanisms

Dr. Wilson and her team will study whether coffee intake is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Coffee is a major source of antioxidants and has many biological effects, including a possible impact on cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, and there are few established, modifiable risk factors. They hypothesize that higher intake of coffee is associated with lower risk of prostate cancer, and particularly for dying of prostate cancer. Through combining data from 15 studies, they will examine coffee intake and risk of prostate cancer and study how coffee impacts prostate tissue. Establishing whether coffee is associated with reduced prostate cancer risk will give men information on how to prevent the disease, and might also shed light on the biology of prostate cancer.

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