National Cancer Institute Funds 20,000-person Trial in Early 2010

In a recently released video NCI’s Dr. John Milner, chief of the Division of Cancer Prevention’s Nutritional Science Research Group, describes how changing scientific perceptions of the medicinal power of foods and the knowledge of the human genome is influencing cancer research.

Citing “rather compelling evidence” that shows “30% of cancers are related to dietary habits,” Milner observed that in cancer-averting diets, “You must assume that those foods are supplying some bioactive food component.”

“It is an area that somehow we have thought is very simple,” he notes.  “But is not very simple.”

Milner describes NCI’s work in “nutrigenomics,” or “personalized nutrition” which he called: “The interaction between what you eat and your genes.  We need to understand genetics and how it plays a role in determining whether you get a benefit or a risk from changing dietary habits.”

Milner notes that historically consumers have chosen supplements to complement their nutrition.

“While there is some logic of consuming those dietary supplements  to prevent a nutritional inadequacy — a deficiency in other words — we don’t know enough about those isolated compounds and how they really inhibit cancer — or if they inhibit cancer.”

“The best evidence,” he said, “is actually with foods, and it possibly is because those foods supply more than one individual component.”

An example: while lycopene may prove beneficial, its interaction with other bioactive elements within the tomatoes where it is found it may contain more robust and effective anti-cancer properties.

Milner notes that NCI is now preparing clinical intervention studies (see below) to examine the benefits of foods, the changes in fruit and vegetable consumption, and of isolated components such as Omega-3s.  “We’ll have to look at the quantity needed to bring about a response, the duration to bring about response and how genetics influences that response,” he says.

“We need to spend a lot more time to understand what these foods are doing and under what circumstances.”

Large-scale Vitamin-D, Omega-3 Trial Recruiting in Jan. 2010

In the article accompanying the video in The “NCI Bulletin” of 12-15-09, Carmen Phillips reports:

“While more early stage trials are on the horizon, those in the field agree that there will probably be somewhat fewer large Phase III trials.  One such trial, the “VITamin D and omegA-3 triaL,” dubbed VITAL, is set to begin enrolling the first of 20,000 planned participants in January 2010. The NCI-supported trial will test whether regular use of vitamin D and fish oil supplements, taken either alone or in combination, reduces overall cancer risk (as well as the risk of heart disease and stroke) in women aged 65 and older and men aged 60 and older.

“… VITAL researchers will analyze blood samples from a subset of participants to see if baseline levels of markers like 25-hydroxy vitamin D, the primary form of vitamin D circulating in the blood, and omega-3s correlate with reduced disease risk. And because the trial has a specific focus on recruiting a large number of minority participants, the researchers can analyze whether factors like participants’ race or ethnic background influenced the response to the supplements and whether supplement consumption can reduce health disparities by race.”

The VITAL trial will be run by Harvard Medical School and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA.  The trial web site is here.