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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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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