Research Sections

Section of Nutrition and Metabolism

Diet, nutrition, metabolic/hormonal imbalances, energy excess consumption, obesity, and physical inactivity are thought to be important contributors to increasing cancer incidence rates worldwide. However, the mechanisms of action of these factors remain poorly understood. In addition, the contributing influence of dietary transitions from traditional to Western type diets, which is taking place in low- and middle-income countries (e.g. Latin America), are not well studied. Exposure in foetal life/early infancy is likely to play a major role in the risk of cancer and other chronic disease at older ages. Therefore, focusing on diet during pregnancy and the first years of life, as well as environmental exposure, is also of major relevance.

Thus, the main objective of the Nutrition and Metabolism (NME) Section is to address these issues by evaluating the association between diet (including dietary patterns), nutrition, physical activity, and energy imbalance with cancer risk and intermediate outcomes in high and middle- to low-income countries using cohort and case-control designs, or human intervention studies. Emphasis is on improving the accuracy, understanding and interpretation of dietary exposures; developing, validating and disseminating standardized dietary methodologies relevant to international study settings; implementing metabolomics approaches to identify new biomarkers for cancer risk and to study cellular, biochemical and physiological changes involved in cancer aetiology; characterizing gene-diet / nutrient / environment interactions. The Section plays a leading role in the coordination and maintenance of EPIC, a large on-going prospective cohort initiated by IARC, and (co-)leads various EPIC working groups on dietary exposure, food contaminants and different cancer endpoints (colorectal, breast, endometrium, liver, cervical and thyroid) .

The NME Section comprises the Dietary Assessment Group (DEX), the Biomarker Group (BMA) and the Nutritional Epidemiology Group (NEP). DEX is involved in improving the development of new tools to assess population dietary intake, and validate and disseminate standardised dietary methodologies relevant to international study contexts. BMA is involved in the identification and implementation of new biomarkers for food consumption, physical activity and exposure to environmental risk factors, and the development of metabolomics for biomarker discovery and to characterize metabolic profiles and their modulation in different lifestyle conditions. NEP is involved in coordinating large case-control and cohort studies with particular interest in low- and middle-income countries to determine specific risk factors of clearly phenotyped cancers and to evaluate gene-diet / nutrient / environment interactions and early life events related to cancer risks. Cancers of primary interest include those of the breast, particularly premenopausal breast cancer, endometrium, colon and rectum, liver, pancreas and thyroid. Methodological tools developed in the DEX and BMA groups are widely used in these epidemiological studies.

A major goal of the Section is to translate nutritional cancer research findings into international public health nutritional and life style recommendations and guidelines for cancer prevention.