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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA researchers search for connection between soy products and breast cancer

Two UA researchers, Donato Romagnolo and Ornella Selmin, have been awarded a $1 million research grant to study how soy intake affects the risk of breast cancer in women. 

“Each year in the U.S. there are 200,000 new cases of breast cancer, and each year 40,000 women die from breast cancer,” Romagnolo said. “When people talk about the war on cancer, few understand that it really is a war.” 

The two doctors went on to talk about their research, saying that 5-10 percent of breast cancer cases come from a mutated BRCA-1 gene. The other 90-95 percent of breast cancer cases are caused by unknown factors.

According to Romagnolo, the two questions their research is trying to answer are: “What makes women who carry the mutated BRCA-1 gene develop breast cancer, and what makes women who have no mutation in the BRCA-1 susceptible to breast cancer?”

Genes that produce proteins can help prevent the development of tumors, and women without the mutated BRCA-1 genes become more susceptible to breast cancer when the BRCA-1 gene stops producing protein. Selmin and Romagnolo are trying to find the environmental factors that cause the BRCA-1 gene to stop producing protein. 

One hypothesis is that women who are exposed to chemical carcinogens while pregnant could potentially have an effect on their unborn child, and theoretically could cause the child to develop breast cancer later in their adult life. These tests are being performed on pregnant mice, and the offspring of the mice are being tested for breast cancer when they reach adulthood.

In past research, it has been shown that high soy diets are correlated with a lower risk of breast cancer. Romagnolo and Selmin will be testing this theory by exposing two mice at a time to chemical carcinogens with the variable that one mouse will be fed a diet high in soy. According to Romagnolo, the idea behind this is the fact that women in Asia have a 50 percent lower chance of developing breast cancer, and regionally they consume high soy diets.

Among the unknown effects of soy reducing the risk of cancer are the timing and the magnitude. Selmin and Romagnolo said they suspect that, with the proper diet at the proper time, soy can have a preventative effect on breast cancer.

“It’s good to see that research supporting our cause is happening on our campus,” said Michael Manchester, the logistics lead for the Relay For Life committee at the UA. “I hope further research is done on this subject to see if there is a difference when genetically modified soy is used.”

Romagnolo and Selmin recently received a $1 million research grant from the Department of Defense. The duo has also received grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Agriculture and the American Institute for Cancer Research. 

“It was very difficult to get that grant,” Selmin said, referring to the DOD grant. Out of the 227 applicants, only 16 received funding.

Follow Nicholas Johnson on Twitter.

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