Dorothy Teegarden’s Story

Dorothy Teegarden, PhD
Associate Dean for research and graduate programs, Department of Nutrition Science

As director of the Cancer Prevention Internship Program at Purdue University, a program that trains the next generation of researchers, Dorothy Teegarden invites cancer survivors into her classroom. While their testimonials have helped to nurture her students’ desires to help people, the visits have inspired Teegarden as well.

“I actually started in cancer research because it’s a very interesting model to find out how cells function,” Teegarden says. “But as I’ve interacted with cancer survivors in my work, I’ve become passionate about cancer prevention and prevention of metastasis because of the consequences personally for people with cancer and their families.”

One area that Teegarden is passionate about is the role of vitamin D in breast cancer. While researchers know that vitamin D is associated with a reduced risk of the disease, no one has clearly defined how. Teegarden has already shown that vitamin D can prevent changes in glucose metabolism that occur when tumors form, and she believes that the protein pyruvate carboxylase may be a key factor in that vitamin D protection. To test her idea, she is using funding from PCCR to study how vitamin D acts on the protein in both normal cells and cells that are in the earliest stages of cancer progression. Her collaborators include other researchers from Purdue and from the University of Washington and the University of Maryland.

If their research bears out, showing that vitamin D prevents the protein from changing glucose metabolism, and hence preventing tumor development, the finding could lead to new dietary recommendations for women at high risk. But right now, Teegarden needs proof of the concept in order to secure national funding for a large-scale study. “The PCCR funding is very, very important to our research,” she explains. “We have this really exciting data showing that vitamin D regulates energy metabolism, and once we have primary data on the mechanism by which it acts, we can do some true translational research.”