December 2, 2005

Fish oil’s impact on colon cancer studied

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A Vanderbilt researcher has found that oils from salmon and other fish may have a positive impact on colon cancer.

Fish oil’s impact on colon cancer studied

A researcher at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has found fish oil may also have a positive effect on colon cancer.

Oliver McIntyre, Ph.D., research professor of Cancer Biology, found colon polyps were generally smaller among laboratory mice fed a diet rich in fish oil, compared with other mice on a high-fat diet.

He also found half the mice on the high-fat diet had polyps greater than two millimeters in size, compared with only 18 percent of mice on the diet high in fish oil.

His study further highlights the potential health benefits of fish oils, called marine n-3 or omega-3 fatty acids.

“This result was not too surprising to us, as it is consistent with reports by others and is why we tested this diet in these animals in the first place,” said McIntyre. “What is new about our work is that we have now begun to examine the molecular mechanisms operating in vivo that may drive this reduction in polyp growth.”

McIntyre's study found the fish oil diet resulted in a four-fold increase in polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and a decrease in other lipids in the intestinal tracts of the specially bred mice used to study early-stage tumor progression in colon cancer.

“We found that the major organs as well as the intestinal tracts of animals kept for about 18 weeks on a diet rich in fish oil had increased omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or so-called PUFAs,” said McIntyre. “Our hypothesis is that a PUFA, or a pattern of PUFAs, contributes to slowing the growth of polyps that sporadically arise in this mouse model of colon cancer,” he added. “This increase in PUFAs may well be a confirmation of the old adage that 'you are what you eat.'”

McIntyre's study used a relatively new technique in analysis, called computational lipidomics, that he said is a similar kind of global analysis to genomics and proteomics, only applied to lipids in cells and tissues.

“While we recognize that mice are neither men nor women, we expect that we will be able to figure out the molecular mechanism in mice, where we can test by experiment the hypothesis generated from our computational lipidomics data.

“We hope to tease out the molecular pathways that are responsible for the reduced growth of polyps in animals that are eating a diet rich in fish oil, and try to understand the molecular mechanism that drives this response,” said McIntyre.

The work is the result of McIntyre's collaboration with Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D., professor and chair of Cancer Biology, and Alex Brown, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology, who is a leader in developments in computational lipidomics.

Until their work is done, McIntyre said he plans to keep fish on his grocery list. “For myself, I'll keep working on the science, but I'll also keep eating more fish.”