New insight into diet and colon cancer

COLLEGE STATION - By looking at the cellular mechanisms underlying colon cancer - the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States - scientists at Texas A&M University have gained new insight into how diet affects colon cancer, which could lead to new ways of treating the disease.

The researchers, led by Joanne R. Lupton, a professor who holds appointments in animal science, food science and technology, nutritional sciences and veterinary anatomy and public health and holder of the William W. Allen Endowed Chair in Nutrition, and Raymond J. Carroll, Distinguished Professor of Statistics, Nutrition and Toxicology, have been working for four years to understand why colon cancer seems to be prevented by a fish oil-diet but not by a corn oil-diet.

"Fish oil seems to protect against colon cancer while corn oil not only does not protect against it but appears to promote it," says Lupton, who has spent the last 20 years working on the effect of diet on the colon, "so we are looking for a potential mechanism at the cellular level that would tell us why that might be the case."

Lupton has discovered that eating mostly corn oil or fish oil can affect the fatty acid composition of cell membranes, which in turn can affect whether a cell will become cancerous.

"Once the fatty acid composition of the membranes of colon cells is changed," Lupton says," that sets up a different fate for the cell. A signal can go from the cellular membrane to the nucleus of the cell and tell it either to divide and become a tumor or give up the ghost and undergo programmed cell death."

With help from the group of statisticians led by Carroll, the scientists have also determined for the first time how cancer spreads among cells in the colon. "Looking at how colon cancer damage depends on cell positions is completely new," says Carroll, one of the world's leading experts in statistics.

The scientists performed their studie

Contact: Keith Randall
Texas A&M University

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