CORVALLIS - Oregon State University researchers are launching a new study on the effects of nutrition on prostate cancer, investigating how certain compounds in "whole foods" may slow the spread of cancer cells at the molecular level.

"Prostate cancer strikes one in six American men," said Tammy Bray, dean of OSU's College of Health and Human Sciences. "We hope to find dietary preventive measures so that men die with it rather than of it."

Bray, a leading expert in the study of anti-oxidants, has received a five-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute to support the research. Her co-principal investigator is Emily Ho, an assistant professor of nutrition and food management at OSU.

The OSU researchers will look at the impact of tomatoes, soy compounds and teas on cancer cells because of their combination of antioxidants and other properties, including anti-inflammation and anti-proliferation.

"Tomatoes contain lycopene, soy contains isoflavones and tea has polyphenols, which appear to work synergistically to protect the prostate from genetic damage," Bray said. "We think these bioactive compounds in whole foods work in concert to slow the spread of cancer."

In their preliminary research, Bray and Ho found that elevated estrogen levels, in the presence of high testosterone, caused prolonged activation of a protein called nuclear factor kappa B, or NFkB. Such prolonged stimulation amplifies inflammation within the prostate, resulting in sustained oxidative damage and infiltration of immune cells.

"The different pathways to these mechanisms are intertwined," Bray said. "NFkB, for example, is a transcription factor that controls cell proliferation and immune response. During prostate cancer, it is 'on' too much. We think the combination of properties within these whole foods we're studying is the key to turning off or, at least, slowing the proliferation response."

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American men and the rate of prostate cancer is much higher in the United States than elsewhere in the world, especially Asia, the researchers say.

"Yet, when Asian men move to the U.S., their rates of cancer go up," Ho pointed out. "So we think nutrition is a factor, not just genetics."

Bray came from the Ohio State University in 2002 to head the College of Health and Human Sciences at OSU, which has doubled its research funds in the past two years.

"We're focusing our efforts on research for healthy children and healthy aging," Bray said

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Tammy Bray, 541-737-3256