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Arnold School of Public Health

UofSC researchers team up to prevent cancer for vulnerable families

September 29, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

Members of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program and the Center for Colon Cancer Research will leverage their collective expertise in a new project designed to reduce cancer risk and health disparities. The five-year study is supported by a $5.8 million U01 grant from the National Cancer Institute and focuses on preventing colorectal cancer in obese parent-child dyads, particularly those in the African American community.

“Reducing inflammation appears to be the key to addressing the growing problem of early-onset colorectal cancer and numerous other obesity-related cancers,” says Health Sciences Distinguished Professor James Hébert, who will serve as principal investigator alongside College of Pharmacy professor Lorne Hofseth and School of Medicine Columbia professor Angela Murphy. “Our plan is to use an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce metabolic dysfunction and chronic inflammation by improving the gut microbiota of participants.”

Prior research has shown a link between early-onset colorectal cancer and obesity and poor diet – both separately and together. This study aims to examine how lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier diet and increased physical activity, can decrease cancer risk.

The Center for Colon Cancer Research will conduct laboratory studies to deepen understanding of how addressing obesity and poor diet can improve gut health and, therefore, reduce cancer risk. In parallel, the Cancer Prevention and Control Program will implement a dietary intervention to reduce inflammation among at-risk (i.e., obese) families by enrolling 45 African-American parent-child dyads and 45 European-American parent-child dyads. Murphy’s lab will conduct analyses of the gut microbiome from all study participants.

The project will employ Hébert’s Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII®), which identifies 45 food/food components that impact inflammation. A decade of research and 375 publications on diet and inflammation based on the DII by Hébert and collaborators and a total of 799 on the DII across the globe have confirmed that lowering an individual’s DII score (making diet more anti-inflammatory) enhances metabolic health, decreases chronic, systemic inflammation, and improves the gut microbiome – all factors that decrease cancer risk.

This research has informed the team’s development of a six-month program they will use in the present study. The Inflammation Management Intervention (IMAGINE™) intervention includes three months of weekly meetings and three monthly follow-up sessions (2.5 hours each) that teach participants to manage inflammation through diet (including cooking), physical activity and stress reduction. Consistent with DII, the IMAGINE diet includes primarily plant-based foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, spices, legumes).

“Nearly 20 percent of all children in the United States are obese, a rate that has quintupled from the mid-1970s and now is a global health concern,” Hébert says. “Despite this well-placed concern, it remains unclear what obesity actually is, what causes obesity  and how obesity impacts human health. Our project aims to answer these questions.”


James R. Hébert and Lorne Hofseth publishes Diet, Inflammation, and Health book with Elsevier

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