Featured Research

New Strategies for Breast Cancer Prevention Tied to Diabetes Drugs, Diet

June 08, 2017

Research by breast cancer expert Xiaohe Yang, M.D., Ph.D., shows that well-known drugs for type 2 diabetes and dietary factors may be the key to breast cancer prevention.   

Kannapolis, N.C. Research published in the last year by Xiaohe Yang, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) Nutrition Research Program at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, points to the preventative potential of metformin and buformin, which are type 2 diabetes drugs, and cancer treatments like laptinib. His research also demonstrates the impact of dietary factors on the development, as well as the prevention of specific breast cancer sub-types.

At the North Carolina Research Campus, Yang is part of a community of scientists representing eight N.C. universities who explore new approaches to disease prevention by combining nutrition with the study of environmental factors.

Untapped, Preventative Potential 

Previous population studies suggest a link between the use of metformin, a widely used treatment for type 2 diabetes, and a reduced risk of various cancers. Yang’s previous research found that metformin selectively targets cancer precursor cells in precancerous tissues, which contributes to its preventative potential. They continued to explore the potential of repurposing buformin, a drug of the metformin family that is no longer being actively used for diabetes treatment, as a cancer preventative. Yang published a study earlier this year that reported buformin has anti-cancer effects in precancerous tissues from animal models of Her2-positive breast cancer. Her2-positive is a subtype of breast cancer that represents one-third of breast cancer cases. Yang’s studies broaden the understanding of the anti-cancer mechanisms of metformin and buformin on Her2-positive breast cancer.

In addition, another study published in 2017 by Yang found that early, short-term exposure to lapatinib, which was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2007 for the treatment of advanced Her2-positive breast cancer, provided long-term protection from Her2-positive mammary tumor development.

Dietary Factors and Prevention

Yang also researches the impact of dietary factors on breast cancer subtypes.  In research published in the International Journal of Oncology in September 2016, he provided evidence that genistein, a major component of soy which has been found in some studies to reduce breast cancer risk, inhibits the activity of CIP2A, a well-known oncogene or a gene with the ability to transform a healthy cell into a tumor cell. Yang theorizes that there is an opportunity to develop an anti-cancer drug that mimics genistein’s natural molecular activity.

Finally, in a study published in March 2017, he explored the impact of alcohol exposure on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a subtype of breast cancer that is characteristically associated with poor prognosis. His study showed that even at low concentrations, alcohol induced the cancer cells to multiply and migrate. The increased cell growth and movement is indicative of potential metastasis, or spreading of the cancer to other tissues.

The Takeaway

“There is no ‘cure-all’ option that applies to all of the different types of this disease,” Yang said. “We hope our research will result in different drug options and strategies to successfully treat and, more importantly, prevent different types of breast cancer from even happening.”

About North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University prepares students to succeed in the global marketplace. Flagship programs include the sciences, technology, nursing, education, law, business and the arts. Founded in 1910 as a liberal arts college for African-Americans, NCCU remains committed to diversity in higher education. Our alumni excel in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. Visit www.nccu.edu.

About the North Carolina Research Campus

The North Carolina Research Campus, located in Kannapolis, N.C., near Charlotte, is a scientific community of eight universities, the David H. Murdock Research Institute, global companies and entrepreneurs. Research and development focuses on safer, more nutritious crops, healthier foods and clinical applications of targeted nutrition and precision medicine. Learn more at www.ncresearchcampus.net.

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