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March 21, 2018 | 3 minute read

Scientist in the Spotlight: Dr. Angela Murphy

Dr. Angela Murphy’s research is focused on understanding why men suffering from obesity are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than their female counterparts. With AICR’s support, Dr. Murphy and her team are looking into obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer and the strategies for prevention.
Learn more about Dr. Murphy’s research in her interview with AICR.

Q.    Tell us more about your research on obesity and colorectal cancer

A. Our research is focused on understanding the mechanisms linking obesity to colorectal cancer.  We are primarily interested in the role that inflammation may play.  Obesity is associated with chronic inflammation and it is well-know that inflammation is a red flag for cancer.  Thus, inflammation is likely to play a role in obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer. Our work is focused on macrophages, which are immune cells that can exhibit pro-inflammatory mediators. Our goal is to understand the role that pro-inflammatory macrophages play in obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer so that appropriate therapeutic strategies can be developed.

Q.  How will you examine the links between inflammation and cancer?

A. The current study is focused on obesity and colorectal cancer.  In order to induce obesity, mice will consume a high-fat-diet that is typical of a standard American diet.  Our previous published work shows that this high-fat-diet treatment can induce inflammation in mice.  Thus, we are essentially examining an inflammatory diet and colorectal cancer risk in mice in this study.  Future research plans with my colleagues at the University of South Carolina include examining the inflammatory potential of the diet and colorectal cancer risk in screening colonoscopy patients.

Q.   What is currently known about the link between gender and obesity-related colorectal cancer risk? 

A. Epidemiological research shows that obesity-increases the risk for colorectal cancer with stronger associations observed in men than in women. A recent commentary by Dr. Edward Giovannucci indicates that weight gain later in life appears to be an important risk factor for colorectal cancer in men whereas early life obesity seems to be more important than adult weight gain for women in determining colorectal cancer risk.  In order to explore the potential mechanisms for this relationship, our study will examine the role of the hormone estrogen on obesity-enhanced colorectal cancer.

Q.  What can both men and women do to reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer?

A. The majority of colorectal cancers are preventable.  Consumption of a healthy diet and regular physical activity are important in the prevention of colorectal cancer risk in mice.  It is thought that changes in food habits may reduce up to 70% of colorectal cancers. Dietary factors have consistently been shown to affect inflammation through pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory mechanisms. Factors associated with lower potential to induce inflammation include fruits and vegetables, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and fiber among others. Conversely, a Western-type diet, which is high in red meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains, has been associated with higher levels of inflammation.   To reduce risk of colorectal cancer we should consume foods with lower inflammatory potential.  Similarly, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased risk for colorectal cancer.

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