COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ask almost anyone, and they’ll tell you there’s a definite link between the foods you eat and your health, including the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
But the relationship between diet and health is a highly complex one. And it’s the focus of Ohio State University’s Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship. CAFFRE is part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and involves faculty members from eight other colleges and schools across campus, including the College of Medicine and The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
The center’s focus, “From Crops to the Clinic to the Consumer,” is made possible by the breadth of expertise available at Ohio State, said Steven Schwartz, CAFFRE director.
“The greatest advantage of CAFFRE is that it provides the opportunity to collaborate with researchers across campus,” said Schwartz, who is also a professor of food science and technology and the holder of the Carl E. Haas Endowed Chair.
“Ohio State has the distinct advantage of having a College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and a College of Medicine within the same campus boundaries. There are very few institutions across the country where researchers in medicine, nutrition and agriculture have that kind of proximity.
“Just to be able to sit down in the same room and brainstorm, and then work together on seed projects with support from different colleges, has created strong teams of individuals that have been very competitive in obtaining external grants for their research interests,” Schwartz said. “Bringing people together from different disciplines is where innovations occur.”
Since 2006, the center’s 44 university scientists have garnered $22 million in support, including $2 million from 21 industry partners.
That kind of interdisciplinary collaboration is at the heart of the university’s Discovery Themes Initiative, created to bring transformational solutions to the grand challenges of today. In August, a proposal developed by several members of the CAFFRE team was among those chosen for Discovery Themes investment.
The “Personalized Food and Nutritional Metabolic Profiling to Improve Health” project will focus on studying the fingerprints of a person’s metabolome, or the complete big picture of thousands of biological and chemical compounds related to human metabolism, and correlate that with the person’s risk of disease, said Robin Ralston, CAFFRE program director.
“The challenge is that we have these Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but they don’t work for everyone. For some people, tomato products can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, but for others, they don’t.
“Different people will eat different foods, and because of their genetic makeup or other factors, the foods will be metabolized in different ways,” she said.
“Eventually, we might be able to use the metabolome information to determine a specific, personalized diet to reduce a person’s risk for developing disease,” Ralston said.
The initiative ties in well with other CAFFRE-supported projects. Recent projects include:
- Studying how a nectar made from black raspberries could protect against certain types of cancers, such as oral cancer in smokers. Previous Ohio State research has revealed that antioxidants in black raspberries can be powerful anti-cancer agents. Scientists associated with CAFFRE have developed functional foods, including nectar and confections, to use in clinical trials.
- Examination of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, from red tomatoes and specially developed orange-colored, or “tangerine” tomatoes. A new study funded by Ohio State’s cancer center is examining the absorption and distribution of lycopene and other carotenoids from red and tangerine tomatoes in prostate cancer patients.
- The role of the type of fat in avocadoes and how it helps the body absorb carotenoids.
Interest in such work remains high. On Tuesday (Sept. 16, 2014), a group of five cooperatives presented a check for $154,259 to Ohio State to boost the Cooperatives for the Cure Cancer Fund. This year’s donation brings the total donated since 2009, when the effort began, to $567,922.
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 Trupointe Cooperative, United Landmark LLC, Heritage Cooperative, Jackson Jennings Co-op and Town & Country Co-op.
The funds are earmarked for food-related cancer research and are split 50-50 between Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and CFAES. For the funds coming to CFAES, Ralston said the ultimate goal is to build the endowment to a point where it can support a graduate student with the interest generated.
For more information on CAFFRE, see fst.osu.edu/caffre.