By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - June 09, 2021
Female breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in Florida and the second leading cause of cancer death in the state behind lung cancer. Moffitt Cancer Center researchers are hoping to lower those statistics by studying ways to improve screening and prevention, but first they need access to data from many women varying in age and race. Thanks to a newly awarded grant from the state, Moffitt can now build a centralized biorepository to store data and samples that can then be used by investigators around Florida.
Moffitt is partnering with the University of Florida and University of Miami to collect data from more than 1,500 women across the state who receive breast cancer screening at their facilities. Dr. Kathleen Egan, principal investigator of this project and senior member of Moffitt’s Cancer Epidemiology Department, says the goal is to obtain a diverse group of women.
“Our partnership with UF and UM will allow us to reach a large population of African American and Hispanic women, which is important since breast cancer affects those populations differently,” said Egan. “And studying those differences could help us better understand why the disease may be more prevalent or aggressive in one group and not another.”
Data collected for the biorepository will include mammogram imaging and biopsies, if applicable, detailed lifestyle and reproductive histories, germline DNA and a urine sample. Of note, researchers will request a stool sample to evaluate the gut microbiome.
“We know obesity, breast density and high circulating estrogen levels elevate a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. The samples in this biorepository will allow us to study each of those further and possibly develop new prevention strategies,” said Egan. “But gut microbiome is an emerging area of cancer research. We can study the characteristics of the microbiome to learn if it is an independent or mediating risk factor for breast cancer.”
The gut microbiome refers to the hundreds of trillions of microorganisms — bacteria, viruses and fungi — that live in our bodies, mostly in our intestines. Bacteria in the gut play a critical role in one’s health by helping with digestion and absorption of nutrients, regulating the metabolism and helping the immune system fight infection. An imbalance of the gut microbiome is thought to contribute to many health issues, including obesity, diabetes and possibly cancer.
“There are several factors that can impact gut health, such as genetics, the environment, medical factors like antibiotic use, and individual behaviors like smoking or alcohol consumption,” said Egan. “If we can
identify the optimal gut microbiome for health, we can then develop dietary recommendations and interventions like pre and probiotics that could reduce risk of disease.”