Cancer Chemoprotection for the Fetus and Infant

Principal Investigator: David E. Williams, Ph.D.

Cancer chemoprotection by dietary micronutrients, including vitamins and phytochemicals, is a very important component of our “war on cancer.” Thirty to forty percent of cancers worldwide are preventable by optimizing diet, physical activity, and maintenance of appropriate body weight. Estimates are that cancer rates can be significantly reduced in lung (20-33%), stomach (66-75%), breast (33-50%), colon/rectum (66-75%), mouth/pharynx (33-50%), and liver (33-66%) by simple lifestyle choices, mostly related to diet, including adoption of a diet rich (400-800 g daily) in a variety of fruit and vegetables.

Few cancer prevention studies targeting the fetus or infant have been conducted, even though this early developmental stage is highly sensitive to cancer from chemicals crossing the placenta or transferred via mother’s milk. Our laboratory focuses on the phytochemicals indole-3-carbinol (I3C) and sulforaphane, found in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts). Initial studies utilized pregnant rodent models to ascertain potency, efficacy, and mechanisms of action of these phytochemicals, when added to the diet of the pregnant or lactating animal, in protecting the offspring from developing cancer later in life (even if they don’t eat their vegetables). We have repeatedly demonstrated that I3C in the maternal diet markedly protects the offspring from cancer from exposure in utero to environmental carcinogens. Ongoing studies will provide new insights into underlying mechanisms by which maternal fruit and vegetable intake protects against cancer in offspring. We plan to move into translational studies with humans, correlating maternal diet, carcinogen exposure, and risk to the fetus or infant.