Nutrition Science professor’s breast cancer research garners achievement award

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa,

Dorothy Teegarden stands in front of whiteboard

Dorothy Teegarden

The American Cancer Society estimates that roughly 43,250 women in the United States will die from breast cancer in 2022. Dorothy Teegarden, a professor in Purdue University’s Department of Nutrition Science and director of Purdue’s Women’s Global Health Institute, is working to reduce that number.

Although Teegarden has a full career of discovery under her belt, her current research works to understand how vitamin D regulates energy metabolism processes during breast cancer progression, from the primary tumor to metastasis, or the spread of cancer. She has also completed recent work investigating obesity’s role in cancer metastasis.

In the spring, Teegarden was announced as the winner of the College of Health and Human Sciences’ (HHS) 2022 Career Research Achievement Award for her strong scientific and scholarly contributions, sustained and significant impact in her field, and the national and international recognition she has received for her work. She will be presented with the award Nov. 3 at HHS’ Fall Research Day.

“To be recognized by my peers in the department and the college that I really love, that’s a great honor,” Teegarden said.

Because of its direct impact on chronic disease, Teegarden’s research closely aligns with HHS’ Healthy Lifestyles and Vital Longevity signature research area through her emphasis on understanding how to prevent metastasis in breast cancer patients and ultimately improve survival rates.

“Dorothy’s work is an exemplar of the outstanding research happening within our dynamic college,” said Marion K. Underwood, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “The advances she has made in breast cancer research are central to HHS’ mission to improve health and well-being across all stages of life.”

Teegarden noted that her most profound research discovery so far was being one of the first to identify the importance of an energy metabolism-regulating enzyme in cancer metastasis. When that enzyme is inhibited, metastasis of breast cancer to the lungs is reduced by 80%. Because vitamin D plays a role in controlling that enzyme, that is one of the mechanisms by which Teegarden’s team believes vitamin D may work to decrease metastasis in breast cancer patients.

“We hope that we’ll be able to identify the amount of vitamin D that you might need in order to prevent particularly metastasis, which is what kills most women who have breast cancer,” Teegarden said. “If we can prevent that metastasis from occurring, it could really have a big impact on how many women can survive breast cancer. That could be a very important translational impact.”

Outside of her groundbreaking discoveries, Teegarden said she enjoys being a mentor to her undergraduate and graduate students in her research lab. Teegarden was recognized for her exceptional mentorship in 2015 with the Purdue University Provost’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentor. For Teegarden, seeing her graduate students succeed is one of her greatest professional accomplishments.

Further elevating her contributions in mentorship and research, Teegarden also served as HHS’ associate dean for research (ADR) from 2012-2019. Cammie McBride, the new HHS associate dean for research, said she’s already heard many wonderful things about Teegarden and her legacy, stepping into the ADR role.

“Dorothy is truly an international researcher,” McBride said. “She has championed very important research surrounding breast cancer and vitamin D, and she’s worked with so many people to accomplish that. I don’t think there could be anyone more perfect to embody the image of cross-disciplinary collaboration to address some of the big problems the world faces.”

Teegarden will receive her Career Research Achievement Award and give a presentation on her research at HHS Fall Research Day, which will take place from 1:30-4 p.m. Nov. 3 in Stewart Center, Rooms 302-306. In addition to Teegarden’s award, the Early Career Research Achievement Award will be presented to Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences Associate Professor Jiyeon Lee, who will also give a lecture about her research.

The awards presentation will be preceded by a research poster session, where faculty, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students across all nine of HHS’ departments and schools will present their work.

“Fall Research Day allows us to celebrate each other’s achievements and get to know what others are working on — it’s another way to strengthen the college and recognize researchers across the other departments and schools,” McBride said.