Co-op gift funds food-based cancer research

Ohio State researchers are taking black raspberries and making highly controlled foods, such as a nectar, and studying them in the laboratory and in humans for anticancer activity. Photo: Getty Images.

COLUMBUS, Ohio—A $190,000 gift to the Cooperatives for the Cure Cancer Fund boosts food-based cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), and Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). The fund was created with the hope of finding a common goal for agricultural cooperatives to work together on bettering their communities through the support of cancer research.

This year’s donation brings the total donated since 2009, when the effort began, to $1.5 million.

Supporting the fund are two campaigns, Growing the Cure and Fueling the Cure, toward which the cooperatives donate money from soybean and corn seed sales and from propane deliveries. The organizations involved in the effort are Centerra Co-op, Heritage Cooperative, Premier Energy, and Sunrise Cooperative.

“Our farmer-owners are committed to the community and want to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Ray Etgen, director of propane operations at Heritage Cooperative. “The co-ops recognize there is a need and want to participate to make a difference. They’re very excited to work with CFAES and the James and are excited to see where it will take us in the future.”

The funds are earmarked for food-related cancer research and are split between OSUCCC – James and Ohio State’s Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship (CAFFRE), which is a part of CFAES.

Projects supported by the fund include studying how nutrient-rich lean beef can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern for overweight cancer survivors to improve weight management, recovery from cancer therapy, and health; the impact of novel vitamin D enriched soy bread on colon health; and the impact of black raspberries on oral cancer prevention.

Having the partnership with the farmer co-ops is key, said Yael Vodovotz, CFAES professor and CAFFRE director.

“A focus of the center is, ‘from crops to the clinic to the consumer,’ so having farmers involved is an important part of the equation,” she said. “This work involves many different people and disciplines who all play an important role in understanding functional food research and in developing a prevention or cure for some of these diseases.”

An important part of that research emphasizes foods, as each food that’s studied contains many bioactive components that together may have a greater impact on cancer and other health outcomes, said Dr. Steven Clinton, a professor at OSUCCC – James and associate director of CAFFRE.

“For example, the black raspberries we study contain nearly 4,000 different substances. Rather than trying to pick a few of these substances to study like a drug, we take black raspberries and make highly controlled foods, such as a nectar, and study these in the laboratory and in humans for anticancer activity,” he said. “The OSU black raspberry nectar is being studied in smokers for the ability to prevent or reverse the impact of tobacco carcinogens.”

The research also involves creating novel combinations, such as a vegetable juice with soy and specific tomato varieties, and looking at this combination in prostate cancer in men, Clinton said.

“Some of our novel food products will target high-risk groups such as those who have inherited genes that place them at risk of specific cancers,” he said. “Efforts are under way with foods targeting those with BRCA genes that increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer as well genes for Lynch syndrome that are a major cause of colon cancer.

“What is most important is that support from Fueling the Cure allows our teams to rapidly develop and test new food products that quickly provide important preliminary data for to subsequent applications for much larger National Institutes of Health or U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to support expanded research efforts. This support is critical to our collaborative efforts and impacts research on cancer prevention, treatment outcomes, and survivorship.

"It has never been more exciting to conduct such novel and impactful research while also training the next generation of investigators at Ohio State.”

For more information on CAFFRE, see

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Yael Vodovotz

Dr. Steven Clinton

Ray Etgen