Cell to Society Pathway Research Stories

Cell to Society Pathway Researchers

Cell to Society faculty members (from left): Adetunji Toriola, MD, PhD; Siobhan Sutcliffe, PhD, ScM, MHS; Yikyung Park, ScD; Bettina Drake, PhD, MPH.

MO IL Cancer Death RatesPrevious research and outcomes in the pathway

Adetunji Toriola, MD, PhD

  1. Markers of breast density. An increased breast density is one of the strongest risk factors for breast cancer, but there is very limited knowledge on how breast density can be modified to reduce breast cancer risk. We are investigating how novel and targetable pathways, including genetic variations in such pathways, are associated with mammographic density and the potential utility of such in the primary prevention of breast cancer.
  2. Pancreatic cancer energy balance and survival. Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive and often fatal malignancy with an overall mortality to incidence ratio of 0.98. Population-based screening is not feasible because of the very low absolute individual risk, and the lack of noninvasive screening tools. We plan to evaluate the utility of metabolomics and transcriptomics in early detection of pancreatic cancer among high-risk individuals. In addition, we are investigating how biomarkers of adiposity and inflammation impact pancreatic cancer survival.

Siobhan Sutcliffe, PhD, ScM, MHS

  1. Early-life and inflammatory/infectious risk factors for prostate cancer. Although most epidemiologic research on prostate cancer to date has focused on exposures experienced in mid- to later-life long after the prostate has developed, an accumulating body of evidence supports an earlier-life contribution to prostate cancer risk – for instance, during gestation and adolescence when the prostate grows and develops rapidly. Dr. Sutcliffe’s research focuses on identifying risk factors that act during these earlier life stages. Specifically, she has ongoing research on markers of the in utero hormonal environment, adolescent diet, and early-life acquisition of genitourinary infections, such as sexually transmitted infections. These studies use both questionnaires and serum biomarkers to assess early-life exposures.
  2. Biomarkers of prostate cancer prognosis. Although many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, most will not die from their malignancy. Therefore, an important question in the current prostate cancer screening era is which cancers will progress and thus require treatment, and which cancers will remain indolent. To answer this question, Dr. Sutcliffe performs collaborative research with urologists, pathologists and basic scientists to identify biomarkers that could ultimately be used to inform prostate cancer prognosis and aid in treatment decisions.

Yikyung Park, ScDBrochure and Textbook

  1. The investigation of modifiable lifestyle factors such as diet, obesity, physical activity and smoking in cancer development and survival, using data from prospective cohort studies. Dr. Park’s studies found that dietary fiber, calcium and a healthy dietary pattern were associated with a lower risk of cancer at various anatomic sites, obesity was related to an increased risk of mortality in African Americans and Asian Americans, pre-diagnosis obesity increased risk of death in cancer survivors, and physical activity lowered risk of many cancers. Dr. Park’s research continues to examine the effects of multivitamins and other dietary supplements use, obesity, weight change and physical activity on survival in cancer survivors; the late effects of cancer treatments; and other survivorship issues.  

Bettina Drake, PhD, MPH

  1. Identifying preventive strategies to reduce cancer disparities, conducting PCa biospecimen studies, and increasing minority recruitment in research. Dr. Drake was recently awarded the Health Disparity Award from the DoD Prostate Cancer Research Program. Through this award, Dr. Drake is analyzing PCa survivors from all VA hospitals to explore the effects of obesity and diabetes on PCa outcomes, specifically among African-American men. Specific research questions have focused on the effect of vitamin D and other dietary elements, c-peptide, obesity and other co-morbid conditions on prostate cancer outcomes.  In her community-based efforts, she co-leads the Prostate Cancer Community Partnership, which allows her to design, implement and disseminate culturally appropriate research information to at-risk groups.