Jessica Martinez of the Cancer Center and research collaborator Ariane Guthrie, an Honors College student, are studying the effects of resveratrol on human enzymes and metabolites to find a way to prevent breast cancer. (Photo: David Scott Allen)
Jessica Martinez of the Cancer Center and research collaborator Ariane Guthrie, an Honors College student, are studying the effects of resveratrol on human enzymes and metabolites to find a way to prevent breast cancer. (Photo: David Scott Allen)

2 UA Units Partner on Breast Cancer Research

The University's Honors College and Cancer Center are raising funds to support the work of Jessica Martinez and Ariane Guthrie, who are studying pathways related to cancer prevention.
Oct. 9, 2015
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The University of Arizona Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center headquartered in the state of Arizona. Bringing promising new therapies from the laboratory to the bedside is a high priority. The clinician scientists of the Cancer Center are engaged in more than 200 clinical trials, investigating a broad spectrum of new diagnostic, prevention and treatment strategies. To learn more about active clinical trials, call the center at 520-321-7444 or visit online: http://uacc.arizona.edu/research/clinical-trials.

The University of Arizona Honors College and the University of Arizona Cancer Center are partnering in October to support breast cancer awareness — and raising funds to support the work of two researchers.

Members of the campus community are asked to wear pink each Wednesday in October, and also to consider making a donation to support Jessica Martinez of the Cancer Center and research collaborator Ariane Guthrie, an Honors College student studying microbiology, nutritional sciences and biochemistry. Donations will be accepted at the Slonaker House, 1027 E. Second St.

The first $1,000 raised will be matched by Honors College dean Patricia MacCorquodale, Cancer Center director Dr. Andrew Kraft, and development officers Scott Koenig and David Scott Allen. An additional $500 will be matched by Honors College board member Susan Esco Chandler.

Martinez, an assistant research professor, is working with Guthrie to find a way to help prevent breast cancer by studying the effects of resveratrol on human enzymes and metabolites, which are part of pathways related to cancer prevention. Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in grapes and peanuts that has been attributed to a variety of health benefits, including cancer prevention.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. And the American Cancer Society reports that one-third of cancer deaths are related to these issues. Increased body weight is associated with clinical factors such as insulin resistance, chronic inflammation and increased circulating sex hormones, all of which contribute to the initiation and progression of obesity-related cancers, including breast cancer.

"Given the continued increase in overweight and obese Americans, despite public health efforts to promote diet and exercise, identification of chemoprevention agents that target the metabolic deregulation associated with overweight issues and obesity will hopefully have a larger impact on lowering cancer burden than weight-loss programs alone," Martinez says.

Previous resveratrol studies have shown metabolic deregulation in animal models, but human trials have been limited.

"Resveratrol's effect in humans is not well-characterized," Martinez says. "If we can get a systemic picture of what’s going on in an individual, then we can learn which pathways resveratrol targets in a person."

Guthrie is hoping to identify which and how metabolites are altered by resveratrol through metabolomics analysis, which is an analysis of the set of molecular chemicals from a biological sample.

"By having a snapshot of an individual’s responses to resveratrol, we can identify how metabolites are altered," Guthrie says. "Recognizing shifts in one's metabolomics profile can help us to understand how resveratrol is acting in the human body and how this action might reduce the risk for breast cancer."

A greater understanding of which metabolites are affected by resveratrol could potentially lead to preventing breast cancer in some patients through resveratrol supplementation, which is extremely important, as even patients who have been diagnosed with and successfully treated for breast cancer can experience remission.  

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"Breast cancer is a highly preventable disease, yet there are over 230,000 new cases each year," Martinez says. "If we can implement prevention strategies, we can make a huge impact for women in the future."

The research conducted by Martinez and Guthrie is just one step toward a medical breakthrough. Knowing exactly how the metabolome is affected by resveratrol will lead to more effective measures in the future, and the impact may only be seen in what does not show up.

"If resveratrol's targets are not elucidated, we cannot know exactly how this compound is acting in our bodies," Guthrie says. "This research could be a major step forward toward understanding those targets."