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Montefiore in the News

February 16, 2006

25 Researchers Study Interaction of Genes and Diet

New York City, NY  (February 16, 2006) — Researchers at Montefiore Medical Center have launched a clinical trial to determine how elevated levels of vitamin D and calcium alter complex genetic and molecular events in the colon to help protect against cancer.

"Dietary factors are an extremely important area of study because at least 75 percent of colon cancer is "sporadic", meaning it can't be traced to any inherited genetic patterns," said Len Augenlicht, Phd, director of the Molecular Oncology Program and professor at the Montefiore Medical Center.

"We know through our own laboratory work that a Western diet - high in fat and phosphate, low in calcium and vitamin D - accelerates the formation of colon cancer in mice, and we believe that data, applies directly to humans," Dr. Augenlicht said.

The clinical trial, conducted in collaboration with the Strang Cancer Prevention Center at Rockefeller University, will involve 20 patients who are at risk for developing cancer because of a medical history of benign tumors, called colon adenomas.

The patients' diets will be modified to include precise amounts of vitamin D and calcium, with each patient having a diet high in calcium and vitamin D, a diet low in both nutrients, or a diet that is high in one but not the other.  Over the course of a month, the researchers will collect two samples of colon tissue to analyze the pattern of expression of about 30,000 genes, as well as analyze the molecular pathways altered by the diet.  Results will be compared with data generated in similar experiments with mice.

"The investigation has exciting potential for our understanding of the prevention and treatment of colon cancer," Dr. Augenlicht said.

Montefiore's colon cancer research program, one of the largest in the nation, is a designated National Cancer Institute center for the study of nutrient-gene interactions in the disease.  Grants from the National Institutes of Health total $4.2 million, supporting five laboratories and 25 scientists.

The Montefiore researchers are investigating:

· whether any unique "signatures," or patterns of gene expression, in the tumors of colon cancer patients predict how the patient will respond to various drugs;

· how a gene in mice that encodes the protein mucin, which lubricates the intestinal tract and protects it from environmental factors, is controlled;

· how certain molecular pathways are involved in the development of colon cancer and the response to therapies;

· how a particular gene in mice, when modified, turns off the response to chemotherapy in mice; and

· how the Western diet influences the development of colon cancer in mice.