Biochemistry and Microbiology

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March 2007
Marshall researcher receives post-doctoral award from Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation

 Dr. Gabriela Ion

Dr. Elaine Hardman

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall University post-doctoral researcher Dr. Gabriela Ion and her mentor, Dr. Elaine Hardman, have received a two-year post-doctoral research award from the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation.

The award allows Ion to conduct studies to determine how the interactions between the adipocytes (fat cells) found in breast tissue and breast cancer cells may be altered by the consumption of omega 3 fat instead of omega 6 fat. MU graduate student Juliana Akinsete also is taking part in the study.

Hardman, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and microbiology at Marshall, said the award is specifically to support the research of young researchers who plan a career in nutrition/behavior-linked cancer prevention research.

“This study will be the foundation for further work by Dr. Ion to understand how dietary change can prevent cancer with a goal of recommendations for cancer prevention in humans,” Hardman said.

Ion, a native of Romania, said she was very surprised she received the grant. “It was my first grant proposal and I got it,” she said. “It is a very important study, which is why I applied for the grant.”

The award, which took effect in January 2007, was announced by the Marshall University Research Corporation and the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the Marshall University School of Medicine.

According to Hardman, omega 3 fats are found in fish, leafy green vegetables and canola oil whereas omega 6 fats are found in corn or soybean products and in the meat from animals (beef, pork, or chicken) fed those foods.

Hardman said previous research showed that the incidence of mammary (breast) cancer is reduced and the growth of existing tumors is slower if the diet of mice or rats includes some omega 3 fat. She said the reduction of cancer risk due to omega 3 fat consumption does not result from changing one single significant mechanism but is a combination of benefits from several mechanisms that together suppress tumor growth. Results of previous studies in mice showed that a diet containing canola oil instead of corn oil slowed breast cancer growth, she said.

Hardman said the goal of the new study is to better define the mechanisms for suppression of breast cancer formation by omega 3 fats.

“In this study we will investigate the effect of canola oil (rich in omega 3 fatty acids) versus corn oil (rich in omega 6 fatty acids) on the communication between preadipocytes/adipocytes (fat cells) and breast tumor cells,” Hardman said. “We know that cell signals produced by fat cells can influence the growth of breast cancer cells. We hypothesize that canola oil and corn oil will differentially affect cell-cell communication by changing the signals produced by both fat cells and cancer cells, especially the inflammatory signals produced by these cells.”

She said the research can open new avenues for breast cancer prevention by a better understanding of how foods, especially dietary fat, influence cancer formation.