Breast Cancer Study Earns Fellowship
HHNS master's student hopes to help open new routes to cancer prevention
BY LORI BONA HUNT
A U of G graduate student has received a $55,000 fellowship from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Ontario region, to study the role of diet during puberty in helping protect against breast cancer.
“I'm extremely excited,” says Breanne Anderson, a new master's student in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences. “To know that others also recognize this research as very important and are choosing to invest in it is very encouraging.”
Anderson will study the effect of two omega-3 essential fatty acids — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — during puberty. DHA, one of the most important omega-3 fatty acids, is a major component of brain and eye tissue; EPA has anti-inflammatory properties.
Previous research has already linked mammary gland development during puberty to mammary carcinogenesis in adulthood, says Anderson. She will study the connection between omega-3 fatty acids and specialized cell membrane structures known as caveolae. Caveolae play a role in regulating cell growth and death, which may be involved in mammary gland development.
“We already know that lipids are important components of caveolae,” she says. “Now we want to study the role of two omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, during early development and determine whether they can help prevent breast cancer.”
Using rodent models, Anderson and her adviser, Prof. David Ma, will first study the effects of a DHA- and EPA-enriched diet during different developmental time points on mammary gland development and caveolae structure and function.
The models will include mice that are genetically engineered to produce omega-3 fatty acids, mice that will be fed EPA and DHA supplements, and a control group not fed EPA or DHA.
“This will allow us to compare the effects of enriching EPA and DHA in the diet to a ‘gold standard' genetic model,” says Anderson.
Later, the researchers will introduce a mouse model that is predisposed to developing mammary tumours to determine whether the presence of omega-3 fatty acids during puberty leads to greater protection against cancer down the road.
The research is in the preliminary stages, but the goal is to provide a new direction for breast cancer prevention research by investigating the contributions of early development and diet, she says.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
“The knowledge to be gained from primary prevention research has the greatest potential to reduce the number of people who are diagnosed,” says Beth Easton, director of allocations and health promotion at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
“This type of research focuses on possible causes and risk factors for the disease and is a funding priority for the foundation. We are proud to support Breanne Anderson's work, which we hope will contribute to a greater understanding of how to stop breast cancer before it starts.”
Ma adds that Anderson is “most deserving” of the fellowship. “Breanne is a highly motivated student, and I have no doubt that she will be successful in her graduate research.”
A 2005 U of G biomedical sciences graduate, she decided to pursue graduate studies in breast cancer prevention research after working as a physician's assistant.
“I witnessed many patients diagnosed and dealing with breast cancer, as well as having loved ones affected by cancer, and that is what really pointed me in this direction.”