SNPs, Activity, Vitamin D Research, Highlights from AICR Award Winners at ObesityWeek

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Congratulations to this year’s ObesityWeek Conference poster winners.

The annual conference, held this year in New Orleans, focuses on the basic science, treatment, and prevention of obesity. It is an important topic because obesity links to several types of cancer, including post-menopausal breast, advanced prostate, and colorectal.

Highlighted below are three of the winners of the AICR research poster competition, which was announced yesterday. The research focused on how genetics, physical activity, and nutrients influence cancer risk, treatment, and survival.

Note: These poster findings have not been published and have not been subjected to the peer-reviewed process.

Insulin Resistance, SNPs and Cancer Risk
Su Yon Jung, PhD – University of California, Los Angelessu-yon-jung-lg

Insulin resistance, a condition commonly associated with obesity, is linked to breast cancer and colorectal cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Small differences in a person’s DNA, called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”), play roles in our susceptibility to certain diseases. Insulin resistance-related SNPs may increase cancer risk in obese people.

In this SNP-study, Su Yon Jung, PhD, an assistant professor at the UCLA School of Nursing, and her colleagues looked for insulin resistance-related SNPs in the DNA of more than 5,000 healthy postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, a prospective study that followed women for 10 to 15 years.

The researchers identified a few insulin resistance-related SNPs that were linked to increased risk of breast cancer and colon cancer. Obese women who had these SNPs had a much greater risk of developing cancer compared to healthy-weight women who had the same SNPs, suggesting there was an interaction between obesity and the SNPs.

According to Jung, insulin resistance-related SNPs accounted for about half of the increased cancer risk associated with obesity.

Jung’s findings speak to the importance of maintaining a healthy weight in reducing cancer risk and have implications for future research. “Our next plan is to conduct a genome-wide association study to identify SNPs related to insulin resistance and their interaction with modifiable lifestyle factors, altering cancer risk,” says Jung.

Cognitive Impairments Add Challenges for Cancer Survivors to Be Active
Alice Yan, MD, PhD – University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

yan2_small1Physical activity is important for cancer survivors because of the many benefits it provides, including reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease. But survivors often have treatment-related problems such as pain, fatigue, or difficulty concentrating and planning that make it difficult to get enough exercise, this study suggests.

In this population-based study, Alice Yan, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and her colleagues analyzed data from 1,035 cancer survivors and 10,288 people without cancer from the 2011 – 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to determine how the two groups’ physical activity differed.

Their research revealed that cancer survivors and people without cancer had similar physical activity levels, but cancer survivors were more likely to have cognitive impairments such as difficulty thinking or remembering than people without cancer. These problems make it harder for cancer survivors to plan or remember to exercise.

The findings are relevant for both survivors and healthcare providers. When designing physical activity interventions and rehab programs for cancer survivors, healthcare providers should take treatment-related cognitive impairment into consideration. “A program that fits the general healthy population might not work for survivors,” says Yan.

Vitamin D Reduces Cancer Cell Growth
Maliha Munir, MPharm – Texas Tech University

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. But many breast cancer patients have
low levels of vitamin D. Evidence maliha_munirfrom this cell study suggests that vitamin D treatment might be a way to reduce cancer cells’ growth and survival.

Maliha Munir, a doctoral student at Texas Tech University, and her team studied breast cancer cells that received one of four treatments: no vitamin D, vitamin D alone, vitamin D plus rapamycin (a drug that inhibits the cellular enzyme mTOR, which is responsible for tumor growth), or rapamycin alone.

After 24 hours of treatment, Munir and her team observed that the cancer cells treated with vitamin D alone or in combination with rapamycin produced fewer proteins that regulate how cancer cells process nutrients, and mTOR was deactivated. The treatment reduced the cells’ ability to survive after just 48 hours.

According to Munir, the greatest effect was observed with the combination of vitamin D plus rapamycin compared to vitamin D or rapamycin alone, but it was a small difference, suggesting that vitamin D had a strong therapeutic effect.

Congrads also to our other winner:

Kimberly Fleming, PhD, University of Kansas 


    Author: Teresa

    Teresa L. Johnson, MSPH, RDN, is a nutrition and health communications consultant with a long-time interest in the role of plant-based diets and cancer prevention. Her work draws on elements of nutritional biochemistry, phytochemistry, toxicology, and epidemiology.

    2 thoughts on “SNPs, Activity, Vitamin D Research, Highlights from AICR Award Winners at ObesityWeek”

      1. Hi Lisa,
        Thanks for your question.

        This study was a cell study, so we don’t know whether Vitamin D would have the same effect as it does in cells in a lab. A great resource for more information is the NIH Vitamin D Fact Sheet for Consumers:

        One of AICR’s Recommendations is: Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.

        People may need supplements for a variety of reasons, but as a recommendation for the general population, research does not show a benefit for reducing cancer risk.

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