Colorado State University College of Ag Horticulture Program Tackles Human Cancer with New Research Laboratory

A new research program at Colorado State University will unlock the secrets of food as a cancer-fighting, cancer-prevention tool by delving into the properties of different varieties of fruits, vegetables and grains and how they impact human cancer risk. The program is housed in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, with the addition of an expert cancer research specialist and his investigative team.

The College of Agricultural Sciences begins the progressive new research program with the establishment of a cancer prevention laboratory this winter and the hire of Henry Thompson, an established cancer researcher formerly with the AMC Cancer Research Center in Denver. Thompson’s research focuses on food and health, properties of food that might prevent or fight cancer, and how foods can be grown and produced to accentuate cancer-fighting properties.

"Dr. Thompson is renowned for his cancer research and will help lead Colorado State into a new direction of research that actively marries food production and health. The development of this laboratory also gives the university a new avenue to solve human health problems with a more productive, problem-solving team approach among different departments and experts from multiple disciplines," said Stephen Wallner, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture department head. "This program is the first of its kind in a college of agricultural sciences."

Thompson and four investigative team members moved into a remodeled laboratory in December 2002 but began collaborative research projects within the university that fall.

Research projects already in progress are investigating antioxidant properties of fruits, vegetables and grains. Antioxidants reduce damage to genetic material, which is significant in cancer research because damaged genetic material increases the risks of cancer. Current projects also include research into how weight control and exercise block cancer progression.

Research at the lab also will investigate biomarkers, which are specific physical traits used to measure or indicate the effects or progress of a disease or condition. For example, cholesterol is a biomarker for heart-disease risk. Additional research includes medicinal properties of plant roots; plant breeding to improve cancer-prevention value; plant breeding for cancer-prevention properties in fruits, vegetables and grains; and drug development to block cancer progression.

"I believe in food as a tool to realize optimum health optimum health, not just because of the importance of weight control and physical activity, but also because of the benefits and risk protection from disease that food can provide us," Thompson said. "Maybe some varieties of apples, for example, contain nutrients that are better than other varieties for preventing or fighting cancer. This type of information will help Colorado State, horticulturalists, farmers, ranchers and medial experts take the lead in enhancing the food supply to provide individuals with new tools to fight cancer."

Thompson said that the development of this information might particularly help those who know they may be at increased risk to cancer. Information about foods that have cancer-prevention properties may help people better formulate preventative diets.

The cancer prevention laboratory was established by Colorado State University Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agricultural Sciences and university research funds. Research is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute.