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October 22, 2010 | 2 minute read

Cancer, Nutrition and the Wide World of Proteins

First there was genomics and now there is proteomics, one of the emerging areas of scientific research. Proteomics is the study of all the proteins made by our genes, and that’s a lot of proteins: Humans have about 20,000 genes and one gene could direct the production for tens of proteins.

It’s the nutritional proteomics session of the AICR Research Conference and there’s a lot of cutting-edge research being presented. As Dr. John Milner of the National Cancer Institute points out, food components all must have a target action site, and that is always a protein. Can exercise change our proteome? How do certain foods alter the proteome and thereby, help prevent cancer?

In one presentation, Dr. Coral Lamartiniere at the University of Alabama at Birmingham discussed his research showing that the timing of consuming a soy component – genistein – plays a big role in breast cancer risk. In animal studies, he found consumption of soy during pre-puberty reduced the risk of breast tumors. Once exposed to genistein during pre-puberty, consuming the compound as an adult increases the protective effect.

Then Dr. Lamartiniere identified the different proteins in the breast tissue between the animals that consumed and did not consume genistein.  Knowing the proteins involved will help researchers understand how genistein may play a role in breast cancer prevention and susceptibility.

It’s early, but nutritional proteomics holds a lot of promise for understanding cancer risk, says Dr. Milner. As this session made clear: more research is underway.

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