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Metabolized sugar and fat could offer key insights into prostate cancer disparities among African American men

Jan 26, 2023

David Turner News Article

African American men are more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and are twice as likely to die from the disease compared to white men, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

David Turner, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center and vice chair of research & innovation in the Department of Surgery at the VCU School of Medicine, was awarded more than $2 million through an R01 grant from the NCI to examine a potential contributor to this disparity.

The five-year grant will investigate biological changes caused by metabolized sugar and fat and processed foods that influence tumor growth in high-risk populations, such as African American men with prostate cancer. The findings of this research could then be used to develop new prevention or treatment strategies in populations where cancer disparities currently exist.

Metabolites are any substance made or used when the body breaks down food, drugs or chemicals. Turner and his collaborators have previously demonstrated that a class of metabolite — advanced glycation end products (AGEs) — are elevated in prostate cancer patients, with the highest levels observed in men with African ancestry and in more advanced tumors.

“AGE accumulation in tissues and organs causes their functional decline and speeds up the aging process,” Turner said. “Our research has shown that dietary consumption of AGEs can directly accelerate prostate cancer growth.”

AGEs are generated as waste through the consumption of foods that are highly processed and/or high in sugar and fat. These foods are linked to exponentially higher amounts of AGEs than other foods like raw fruits and vegetables.

“We have evidence showing that socioeconomic, demographic and environmental factors that drive cancer disparity increase the accumulation of AGEs in the body,” Turner said. “AGEs are a prime example of what you don’t know can kill you.”

Previous scientific research has suggested that the biological changes that lead to the development of deadly prostate cancer in African American men typically occur in the collection of cells and tissues referred to as stroma. Stroma includes connective tissue, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and nerves. However, it’s not clearly understood why tumor stroma affects prostate cancer development. Turner and his collaborators have shown that AGEs consumed in the diet can alter the prostate tumor stroma resulting in quicker disease growth.

Turner will use this grant funding to evaluate how this relationship between AGEs, diet and the tumor stroma contributes to the aggressive growth of prostate cancer in African American men.

“Establishing the biological effects of AGEs on ancestry-specific tumor biology could lead to the implementation of new strategies to limit their accumulation in the body,” Turner said. “These strategies could become novel preventive or therapeutic methods to fight cancer disparity in at-risk populations.”

Written by Blake Belden

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