Bridging Disciplines to Study Possible Cancer-Obesity Links

November 16, 2011

NCI Cancer Bulletin

Penn Medicine’s new Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Center is highlighted in an NCI Cancer Bulletin story exploring research underway on the links between obesity and cancer. Penn’s TREC Center, which is funded by a $10 million grant from the National Cancer Institute and brings together researchers from diverse specialties to study the issue from different points of view, "was designed to go all the way, not just from mouse to human trials, but from mouse to policy, or 'from bench to trench,'" said Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics who serves as the center's principal investigator. Schmitz’s Women in Steady Exercise Research (WISER) Survivor trial will follow overweight breast cancer survivors to assess the effects of exercise, weight loss through caloric restriction on biomarkers for recurrence, quality of life, and lymphedema—a chronic and often devastating adverse effect of breast cancer treatment. A second project, led by Lewis Chodosh, MD, PhD, chair of the department of Cancer Biology, will study the same interventions as in the WISER Survivor trial in a genetically engineered mouse model for breast cancer recurrence to show whether exercise and/or caloric restriction can affect recurrence in overweight animals, while measuring possible biomarkers of recurrence in the mice to gain insights into molecular pathways that might mediate recurrence. Those results will in turn inform Schmitz's decisions on which biomarkers to focus on in the WISER Survivor participants. A third TREC project at Penn, led by internal medicine professor J. Sanford Schwartz, MD, a professor of Medicine and Health Management & Economics, is a cost-effectiveness analysis of the WISER Survivor trial. The results "will help determine whether a low-cost intervention for lymphedema, namely exercise, could save money in the long run," Schmitz said. If so, she said, "we could change health care policy to approve payment for rehabilitation exercise programs for breast cancer survivors." Read More

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