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Uncoupling obesity from breast cancer in African American women

Gerald V. Denis

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National Institutes of Health (NIH)
The mechanistic relationship between immunometabolic complications of obesity and breast cancer is not understood, particularly in African American women, a group that is disproportionately affected. Insulin- resistant obesity features chronic systemic and local inflammation of fat, which has been linked to breast cancer outcomes. However, not all obesity conveys the same risk of cancer. About a quarter of obese African American adults are 'metabolically-healthy' despite their obesity and show reduced cardiovascular and diabetes risks. Recent analyses of Framingham Study population-based data show that risks for obesity- associated cancers, including breast cancer, are also reduced in these subjects. A key feature of these healthy obese adults is a reduced inflammatory profile, both locally in fat and systemically in blood. These data set up our long-term goal: to understand and use the relationships between obesity, inflammation and breast cancer outcomes to reduce the effects of obesity on cancer mortality. We do not know whether 'metabolically-healthy' obese African American women have less inflammation in breast tissue or systemically, or whether immunometabolic status associates with reduced breast cancer risk. Many 'metabolically-abnormal' obese African American women are given metformin to control blood glucose, but we do not know if metformin protects them against breast cancer; the critical studies simply have not been performed. It is urgent to resolve these questions, given the numbers of Americans affected and the high mortality arising from obesity and cancer. Our approach will investigate immunometabolic status and breast cancer in the Black Women's Health Study and use both basic laboratory and epidemiological population data to identify critical mechanisms and pharmacological solutions. Our overall objective is to define the critical immunometabolic mechanisms that stratify cancer risk in obese women, and test hypothesized relationships in cell culture models of breast cancer. Based on new preliminary data, we hypothesize that reduced inflammation in certain obese women protects against breast cancer; and that the standard of care for insulin-resistant obesity, metformin, has value for prevention of breast cancer in AfricanAmerican women. The hypothesis is formulated on the basis of preliminary and published studies of Framingham and BWHS subjects. We undertake three Aims: 1. Determine the immunometabolic factors that stratify obesity-related risk of breast cancer in BWHS subjects. 2. Determine whether inflammatory markers, including crown-like structures in breast adipose tissue and plasma cytokine levels, are associated with 'metabolically-abnormal' obesity as opposed to 'metabolically-healthy' obesity. 3. Determine whether novel inhibitors of inflammation and cancer diminish tumor cell aggressiveness in models of human breast cancer. The proposed research is innovative and important because we are the first to disentangle mechanisms that couple obesity to breast cancer risk. The investigation will have important public health impact because our results will help reduce cancer mortality in a disadvantaged population.

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