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NYU to Study Genetics of Obesity-Related Cancers

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A New York University assistant professor will use a grant from the American Cancer Society to study the genetic and other factors that may link insulin to obesity-related cancers, NYU said yesterday.

The $720,000 Research Scholar Grant from ACS will fund research led by NYU Assistant Professor Niyati Parekh, of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, that seeks to study the impacts of blood markers, genetic factors, and diet related to insulin and the metabolism of glucose, and how they are involved in obesity and cancer.

The study will use the data from the Framingham Heart Study, which gathered medical, dietary, and demographic data over 60 years for research into cardiovascular disease and which also tracked cancer diagnoses.

The number of obese individuals has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, and cancer rates that have been increasing in parallel with the surge in obesity suggest that obesity may be related to half of all cancers in the US, NYU said.

Parekh's research will explore the possibility that this increase is linked to insulin.

“It has been theorized that insulin acts as a growth factor for cancer cells and produces an overall environment that is conducive to cancer development,” said Parekh, a faculty member in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health. “Obese persons commonly have higher blood levels of insulin, which may enhance their risk of cancer.”

The genes that may be involved in insulin and the onset of cancer have not yet been studied, she pointed out.

“This research will provide important information about missing links required to target prevention of obesity-related cancers,” Parekh she said. “Its ultimate purpose is to identify individuals with high insulin or blood sugar levels, so we can recommend healthier diets or genetic screening as tools to head off cancer in a substantial at-risk population.”

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