Scientists to Explore How Genes and Diet Affect Women’s Cancer Risk

March 17, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Using blood and DNA samples from 4,000 women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), as well as information about the foods they consumed, researchers in the Center for Human Genomics at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine will explore the role of inflammation in colon, breast, and lung cancer – three of the most common types of cancer in women.

Researchers will also attempt to identify how the women’s diets interacted with their genetic make-up.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health awarded 12 new contracts in January as part of the next phase of research of the WHI, a major 15-year research program designed to address the most frequent causes of death, disability, and poor quality of life in postmenopausal women. Investigators at Wake Forest were given $1.7 million for their two-year study.

“We think we will be able to identify differences in the DNA and dietary intake of women with these cancers versus those without,” said principal investigator Jianfeng Xu, M.D., Dr. P.H., a professor of public health and cancer biology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine as well as associate director of the Center for Human Genomics and director of the Program for Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology of Cancer.

“In addition, this project might lead to the development of new genetic tests and perhaps recommendations for types of foods that can be used to reduce cancer risk,” said Xu.

An important aspect of the study is the inclusion of samples from 1,000 African-American women, who have often been excluded from such studies in the past.

Xu said he thinks the Genomics Center was successful in obtaining the grant because of the center’s extensive experience in genetic studies of cancer and, in particular, inflammation and cancer. Over the past six years, the center’s researchers have published over 90 papers in the areas of cancer genetics and other complex diseases.

Co-principal investigator Mara Vitolins, Dr. P.H., an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, in the Division of Public Health Sciences, noted that the grant will provide “a unique opportunity to use an established dataset to explore scientific questions related to cancer, genes, diet, and inflammation.”

The Genomics Center also has a state-of-the-art facility, which allows the very rapid examination of DNA from many samples, using a “gene chip” technology that can test for more than 12,000 genetic changes in minutes.


Media Contacts: Karen Richardson,; Shannon Koontz,; at 336-716-4587

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 35th in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.


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