Principal Investigator: Emily Ho, Ph.D.

My research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms by which nutrient status affects the initiation and/or progression of chronic disease states like cancer. Low intake of several nutrients, such as zinc, could be a major risk factor for several types of cancer, as suggested by both epidemiological and laboratory studies. The main areas of interest in my laboratory are the function of zinc across the lifespan and dietary influences on prostate cancer development. Zinc is a component of over 300 proteins, including DNA-binding proteins with zinc fingers, Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase, and several proteins involved in DNA repair, such as p53, which is mutated in half of human tumors. We have found that deficits in zinc intake could also have a major impact on an individual’s susceptibility to DNA damage and risk for developing cancer due to zinc’s function as an antioxidant and its role in DNA damage response. We are also interested in the effects of zinc during development and in the aging immune system. Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in men. The prostate contains the highest concentration of zinc in the body, and low zinc intake may increase the risk for prostate cancer. We have found that other dietary compounds, especially those found in traditional Asian diets, such as soy, teas, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, can limit prostate cancer development. A new, exciting interest in the laboratory is to understand the interaction between diet and epigenetic alterations in histone structure and prostate cancer risk.