Researcher to Study Link Between Diet, Breast Cancer

August 21, 2013 - News Release

A University of Guelph researcher, working to see how diet influences risk of breast cancer, has received a grant from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF)-Ontario Region to conduct her research.

Salma Abdelmagid, a post-doctoral researcher in the department of Human Health & Nutritional Sciences, was awarded $142,500 over three years and is one of 18 recipients across Ontario to receive a postdoctoral fellowship.

Abdelmagid will be researching the roles of different Omega-3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in mammary gland development in mice. Research has shown that changes in the mammary glands during critical periods of development can modify breast cancer risk, but the roles of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in mammary gland development are not fully understood.

She will be looking at how the timing of intake of Omega fatty acids can impact mammary gland development. In addition, there are multiple types of these acids, primarily found in either plants or marine oils, and her research will try to determine which is the most beneficial for people.

“Right now, we don’t know if it is essential that a mother takes Omega-3s during pregnancy to prevent her unborn child from developing breast cancer later in life, or is the child's intake of Omega-3 fatty acids later in life is enough for prevention of breast cancer ,” Abdelmagid said. “We need to know which of these fatty acids are the most effective, and we’ll also be looking at Omega-6 fatty acids, which are thought to have more of a negative impact.”

Some of the 400 mice she will be working with will be fed Omega-3 fatty acids-enriched diets while pregnant to determine the impact on offspring risk of breast cancer, while other mice will be fed Omega-3-enriched diets after they are born. Mice will also be fed diets enriched with different types of Omega-3 and Omegae-6 fatty acids. The hope is that when the researchers look at the mammary glands at the end of the experiment, they will be able to tell which mice are least or most susceptible to breast cancer.

“Inheritable factors play a role in breast cancer development, but diet and life style have been implicated in 30-50% of cancers,” said Abdelmagid. “Research has helped improve the survival rate of those diagnosed with this cancer, but there is more that needs to be done to prevent the disease.”

According to the CBCF, one in nine Canadian women will be impacted by breast cancer in her lifetime, with an estimated 23,800 women being diagnosed in 2013.

Abdelmagid has been working at Guelph with Prof. David Ma for the last two years. She says that Ma’s work on the role of fatty acids in human health was one of the reasons she looked to work at Guelph since graduating from Dalhousie University with her PhD. She will be working with his lab team in conducting the experiment.

“The CBCF feels the results here will be very applicable, so that is one of the reasons why we received this grant,” Abdelmagid said. “This could be a simple solution to lowering the risk of breast cancer.”

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