School of Public Health Professor Receives Grant for Breast Cancer Research

By Shawn Ness | April 10, 2021


A $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute was awarded to a School of Public Health professor to fund an ongoing research project on the effects of dietary vitamin K on the progression of breast cancer.


JoEllen Welsh’s 5-year project entitled “Vitamin K Body Pools and Function in Breast Cancer” received a three-year grant from the Department of Breast Cancer Research Program in 2016.


The SUNY Distinguished Professor has grown an international reputation for her research on the relationship between nutrition and breast cancer and cited a family history of breast cancer as her drive to pursue this field of research. “I’m very interested in understanding how to reduce the risk,” she said.


“Diet is one of the biggest modifiable risk factors for cancer,” Welsh said. “But it’s difficult to make recommendations without understanding the specific biological processes that are regulated by individual nutrients and specific diets.”


Her particular study focuses on the role of vitamin K, a nutrient found in foods such as green-leafy vegetables, fish, meat, eggs and cheese.


“Vitamin K was discovered for its function in regulation of blood clotting. Very few studies have looked at whether it might have other functions,” said Welsh.


The study follows a first study conducted by Welsh which discovered that vitamin K2 slowed the growth of aggressive breast cancer cells.


“Our new project focuses on understanding why different forms of vitamin K have different effects on cancer cells and whether diets or drugs that modify the vitamin K pathway might be useful as cancer treatments,” said Welsh.


Welsh and her team of four fellows and technicians will predominantly be utilizing screening approaches to conduct their research.


“Screening, in this case, means to generate profiles of breast cancer cells treated with vitamin K compounds to identify specific targets of the carboxylase enzyme,” said Welsh. “We think there might be unique carboxylase substrates in breast cancer cells that mediate the effects of vitamin K.”


Through this study, Welsh hopes to provide insight into diets or therapies that could prove to be useful in regulating a possible relationship between vitamin K and breast cancer progression within patients.


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