Oct 082007
Authors: Shannon Hurley

Working to improve and prolong the lives of the campus community and billions around the globe, CSU’s Cancer Prevention Laboratory has been working for the past several years to uncover the cancer-preventing capabilities of the foods we eat.

“It is clear that there are lifestyle choices that can enhance or reduce risk for chronic diseases,” said Dr. Henry Thompson, director of the CPL. “Medicine is moving toward understanding personalized risk.”

The first of its kind in the United States that works to better the health benefits derived from fruits, vegetables, and grains in the diet, the CPL’s research is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute. Housed in a small corner of the Plant Sciences basement and consisting of no more than 30 researchers, the quiet yet productive staff in the office and laboratory of the CPL inquire, examine and analyze the content of our diets daily in what Thomson described as a “transdisicplinary research effort” to determine which foods will ultimately provide the best human health benefits.

“We focus on what you can do to prevent the disease from occurring,” said Erica Daniell, a Food Science and Nutrition graduate student researching at the CPL.

Daniell explains the lab’s “iceberg analogy,” referring to the signs outside the lab doors. When envisioning a floating iceberg, the small but exposed tip is cancer while the larger submerged base is prevention. The best opportunity for action exists within this base. Through its various research projects, the CPL strives to understand what can be done to prevent the disease from ever exposing its dangerous tip.

“Our effort is to discover how to prevent the iceberg from ever becoming a reality,” Thompson said. “While we’ll never be heroes, the best thing you can do for a person is have them never experience cancer.”

Conducting extensive clinical research and cooperating across fields with physicians, nutritionists and plant breeders among others, the CPL is currently exploring the impact of a botanically diverse diet on biomarkers of disease risk as well as the importance of crop diversity in the human diet.

Understanding the preventative capacities of the foods we eat should be beneficial for CSU students who do not always contemplate the consequences of everyday lifestyle choices. Being proactive in areas such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, exercise and diet is something that Thompson believes should be thought about today and not tomorrow.

One of the many ideas in progress and under development at the CPL is an all-inclusive “modular, fully described disease prevention diet,” Thompson explained, known as the Colorado Cuisine for Life.

Providing the community with a structured look at what can be done with their diet today to prevent the future impact of chronic diseases such as obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, Colorado Cuisine for Life emphasizes the importance of awareness in individual and early action for long-term personal health.

Chandra Brin, a senior Technical Journalism major, says she believes students are very conscious about health and wholesome foods though she doubts many seriously consider their diets long-term effects.

“I really never think about the repercussions of what I ingest,” Brin said. “But if we could stop ourselves from painful doctor’s visits and chemotherapy just because we put certain vitamins and nutrients in our diets that would clearly be significant.”

Although knowledge about the CPL is not widespread on campus, the lab’s message emphasizing the health benefits of an active individual’s consumption of a preventative diet has not gone unnoticed by all.

“I always try to have something green,” said Alex Bocim, a freshman open-option major. “A healthy diet will decrease the chance of getting sick, and it just makes you feel better overall.”

Researching to prevent the “wound that never heals” for over the past 15 years, Thompson sees the CPL’s research studies and experiments as increasingly vital in today’s society of often unhealthy lifestyle practices. Through cycles of learning and discovery, the CPL team hopes to spread awareness about the individual need to take control of personal and physical health, not just locally but across borders as well.

“This is an opportunity in agriculture to do something more important for global human health,” Thompson said.

Staff writer Shannon Hurley can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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