Researcher Studies How Fiber Protects Against Colorectal Cancer

Published on May 23, 2012

Updated on February 13, 2018

This month we spoke with Dallas Donohoe, PhD, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who received a fellowship from the Foundation in fall 2008 to examine how fiber protects against colorectal cancer. We caught up with Dr. Donohoe to hear more about his research and the importance of funding studies in prevention and early detection.

  1. Dallas Donohoe, PhD

    What led you to the field of colorectal cancer prevention?
    My research on the role of the microbiome in host energy metabolism led me to identify the importance of the microbial breakdown product from dietary fiber, butyrate, in regulating colonic homeostasis, or state of equilibrium.  Butyrate not only helps regulate colonic homeostasis, it has been implicated in the prevention of colorectal cancer through the dietary consumption of a high-fiber diet. This beneficial effect from butyrate led me into colorectal cancer prevention.

  2. Tell us about your research.
    There are several lines of evidence that eating a high-fiber diet reduces the incidence of colorectal cancer. However, there is also evidence that shows that it has no preventive effects. Factors that may complicate this issue include different individual genetic make-up, different microbial populations and microbiomes, different fiber sources, compliance issues, and so on. In my experimental system I am able to control each of these factors.My research results thus far have demonstrated that a high-fiber diet does protect against colorectal cancer, although in a microbiota-dependent manner. More specifically, in my model, I observed lower the experimental group which received the high-fiber diet and was colonized with a butyrate-producing microbe showed fewer tumors and smaller ones.
  3. How did receiving a Prevent Cancer Foundation fellowship impact your research?
    The Prevent Cancer Foundation has directly funded my research for the past two years. This research has focused on the potential dietary prevention of colorectal cancer through a high-fiber diet.  With the Prevent Cancer Foundation fellowship I was able to purchase the necessary reagents and supplies to perform experiments.  I am and forever will be grateful to the Prevent Cancer Foundation.  Thanks to the Foundation fellowship my research will advance the science of cancer prevention.
  4. Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?Many of the factors related to cancer prevention can be put into practice in our everyday lives.  These factors include diet, physical activity, lifestyle, and other environmental exposures.  In my studies I addressed the importance of a high-fiber diet in colorectal cancer prevention.  In this way, improving one’s diet is something that applies to everyone.

Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Click here to see other ways you can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

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