Purdue launches international effort to study nutrition, breast cancer

January 11, 2010 Amy Patterson Neubert

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University researchers are inviting scientists from around the world to collaborate on a new initiative to better understand how nutrition affects breast cancer.

"We know that eating a healthy, balanced diet is crucial to one's health, especially for cancer prevention, but there are still many unknowns about the role nutritional mechanisms play in cancer development and recurrence," said Sophie Lelièvre (pronounced Le-LEE-YEA-vre), associate professor of basic medical sciences and leader of the Breast Cancer Discovery Group at the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. "There is a void in cancer prevention research in general, and that doesn't help empower patients. Our ultimate goal is to develop strategies that diminish breast cancer incidence, then utilize communication and public policy to educate people about our findings."

The medical community has studied genetics and breast cancer for years, Lelièvre said, but now more researchers are focusing on how lifestyle factors such as nutrition affect the genes related to breast cancer. A growing area of science is called epigenetics, which is a change in the gene's function with no change in the DNA sequence that defines the gene. It has potential to be one of the key aspects of gene control by environmental factors like nutrition. It will be one of the targets for the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition Project. In general, researchers will be looking at the cellular and molecular mechanisms to better understand the role nutrients play in breast tissue alterations and cancer development.

Purdue is launching the initiative on Oct. 18 and 19 at the project's international symposium, called Breast Cancer Prevention: Nutrition, Communication and Public Policy. To date, the Purdue team is working with the World Health Organization and 15 universities representing eight countries. Registration for the conference at Purdue opens this month, and more information is available at http://www.purdue.edu/breastcancer/

"The international breadth and depth of this group will allow us to examine the diversity of people's diets and compare that information to the disease's incidence," said Connie M. Weaver, distinguished professor and head of Purdue's Department of Foods and Nutrition and director of the Botanicals Center for Age-Related Diseases. "The World Health Organization reports that the number of breast cancer cases is increasing in developing countries, and that could be the result of changing diets. We won't know for sure until we can all pool our resources and expertise to address this public health issue."

In addition to Lelièvre and Weaver, who are co-chairs of the October symposium, other Purdue faculty members involved include:

* Dorothy Teegarden, professor of foods and nutrition and group leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program of the Oncological Sciences Center.

* Rebecca Doerge, professor of statistics and agronomy and director of the Statistical Bioinformatics Center.

* Jakob Jensen, assistant professor of communication and affiliate faculty member in the Oncological Sciences Center and the Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering.

* George Moore, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and comparative pathology and director of the Clinical Trials Group.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that in the United States in 2009 more than 192,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 women died of the disease. The institute spent more than $572 million in 2008 on research related to breast cancer.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu  

Sources:  Sophie Lelièvre, 765-496-7793, lelievre@purdue.edu  

                   Connie Weaver, 765-494-8237, weavercm@purdue.edu