Balz Frei

From the Director

Balz Frei, Ph.D.
Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics
Director and Endowed Chair
Linus Pauling Institute


The past six months since the last LPI Newsletter have been marked by some important events at the Institute. In May, the Institute held its first major conference, "Diet and Optimum Health," in Portland, Oregon, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Linus Pauling's birth. Over 300 participants enjoyed the excellent scientific presentations, as well as the healthy food, social gatherings, and the inaugural award banquet for the "Linus Pauling Institute Prize for Health Research." Thirty-two nationally and internationally recognized researchers in nutrition and chronic disease presented many of the latest findings on such topics as diet and cancer, causes and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, caloric intake and aging, mechanisms and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, new dietary treatments for obesity, changing vitamin requirements for the elderly, and many other issues. A detailed report on all the talks begins on the first page of this Newsletter.

The first recipient of the LPI Prize was Bruce N. Ames, a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Ames is credited with key work in understanding the nature of the aging process and how certain vitamins and micronutrients become limited with age. His research has fundamentally changed the way in which scientists think about and approach research on cancer and cancer chemoprevention by vitamins and micronutrients, including folic acid, B vitamins, and vitamin C. On a personal note, I am very pleased that Dr. Ames has been chosen by the International Prize Selection Committee as the first recipient of the LPI Prize because he was an excellent mentor to me and a crucial influence on my scientific career, as well that of Dr. Tory Hagen, another LPI faculty.

A month before the Conference, LPI was reviewed by an expert panel of four renowned scientists in the areas of cancer, heart disease, and aging-major research areas in the Institute. Centers and Institutes at Oregon State University are reviewed by an extramural committee every five years. The two-day, on-site review included detailed discussions of all the research projects conducted by LPI scientists, as well as the Institute's overall mission, programs, current and future goals, funding, and public education. I am very pleased that the reviewers' report was highly favorable. The reviewers praised the faculty and scientists at LPI and were highly supportive of the current and future research directions at the Institute. The committee's major recommendations had to do primarily with improving and expanding the research facilities for the Institute at OSU and developing a progressive plan by the University for the Institute's expansion and future faculty and staff recruits.

Another noteworthy recent event was that LPI faculty Rod Dashwood took over as the new Chief of the Cancer Chemoprotection Program (CCP). The CCP was established at LPI in 1998 with the goals to identify novel phytochemicals (chemicals in fruits and vegetables that may affect health) with anti-carcinogenic potential, to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of action of these compounds, and to develop these compounds as supplements or drugs that can protect against cancer in humans. In addition, an important function of the CCP is to act as a repository and resource center for information and education on micronutrients, phytochemicals, and cancer chemoprevention. The physiological effects and health benefits of these compounds will be explained in scientific and popular publications and made available to health professionals and the public on the Internet through the LPI Micronutrient Information Center.

The critical need for such public education efforts can be appreciated from the results of a recent survey conducted by the National Coalition for Cancer Research. In this survey, cancer was identified by the public as the disease of most concern, yet half the respondents held the mistaken belief that cancer was not preventable and were unaware that phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables can provide protection. Cancer is the number two killer in the U.S., claiming about 550,000 lives every year (24% of all deaths, compared to 42% due to heart disease and strokes) and costs 107 billion dollars annually in health care. While genetics is a modulating factor, it is, in the vast majority of cases, not the cause of cancer. Cancer is preventable: about one third of all U.S. cancers and 90% of lung cancers could be prevented if everyone abstained from tobacco use, and another third of cancers could be prevented if everybody ate a healthy diet. Scientists have estimated that up to 33%, 75%, 50% and 20%, respectively, of lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers (the four major cancer killers in the U.S.) are preventable by diet, especially a high intake of fruits and vegetables. With U.S. health care costs spiraling out of control, understanding how diet prevents cancer and educating health professionals and the public about the causes and prevention of cancer has never been more important. Prevention is far preferable over treatment, as it is cheap, prevents suffering and death, and is attainable. This concept echoes the original mission of LPI expressed in 1973: "... to engage in research into the factors and circumstances conducive to ... the diminution of the amount of human suffering." More information on the direction of the CCP.

Last updated November, 2001

Honoring a Scientific Giant with Nutritional Research Toward Longer, Better Lives

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