Doctors Elaine Hardman and Philippe Georgel
are researchers at Marshall University. Earlier this year they received three
grants totaling more than $1M from the Department of Defense Breast
Cancer Research Program and the National Institutes of Health.
The grants are
for their research into the role of omega-3 fatty acids in reducing the
development of breast cancer cells in children.
Over the next two years Hardman and Georgel
will use the grants to confirm their previous observations. It appears that the
consumption of canola oil, a source of omega-3 fatty acids, in the maternal
diet of mice could reduce the risk of breast cancer in the offspring.
researchers also want to identify the longer term genetic changes occurring because
of the maternal diet. Hardman says that the ability of the mother’s diet to affect
the child’s genes is an important finding.
“Something must be going on during while
the mother is pregnant, during gestation and lactation, to alter gene expression
in the babies and the alteration lasts apparently throughout the life of the
baby; we call these epigenetic changes,” Hardman said.
Hardman says this research indicates
that it may be possible to take steps to prevent breast cancer even before a
child is born.
“Most mothers are very good at watching their diet for the short time of
pregnancy and maybe while they’re nursing the baby and if that could reduce her
risk for her baby developing breast cancer, it could make a huge difference in
our breast cancer incidence in this country,” Hardman said.
Because the research so far has been with
mice, Hardman says she and her research partner hope to look at the mammary glands
of the babies and see what correlates with reduced risk. They will then look at
the mammary glands in humans and see if the same changes are taking place.
Philippe Georgel specializes in the
study of the genes within the breast cancer research.
“So we’re looking at biological markers
that are going to be able to be monitored that we can find in a normal mouse in
a normal mammary gland, in a cancerous mammary gland and we can do a screen and
look at the genes that are being affected and how those epigenetic markers
change,” Georgel said.
Georgel says this research could mean
more than just the health of the first generation offspring, but possibly even
“It would be interesting it could be a
long lasting effect to look at the second generation, not simply at the mother
and the daughter, but the granddaughter as well might be affected by that particular
same process that we’re trying to identify,” Georgel said.
Both Georgel and Hardman say it means a
lot to do this research during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month,
especially for Georgel.
“Too late for my mom. She got breast
cancer and fortunately she didn’t die from that, but it’s very important to
remember that there is a person at the end of the line, not simply a
publication or something else. There is really a person that could benefit from
that,” Georgel said.
“What we’ll find out in this project won’t
suppress my risk for breast cancer, probably not my daughters risk for breast cancer,
but it can help my granddaughters and the next generation, that’s important to
me,” Hardman said.
The researchers say once these studies
are done, they’ll look at how diet later in life could reduce cancer risk.