LSU and Tulane collaborative review article identifies epigenetic links between obesity and breast cancer

Obesity-associated epigenetic alterations and the obesity-breast cancer axis

Scientists from Louisiana State University (LSU) and Tulane University School of Medicine analyzed more than 120 research articles on obesity, breast cancer and epigenetics which culminated in a review article published in Oncogene in February, 2024.

Certain lifestyle and environmental factors can affect a person’s epigenetics, which in turn can change the gene expression and activity of cells.  The review article discusses the epigenetic alterations that occur with obesity and how they can influence breast cancer and can be accessed here.

Matthew Burow, PhD, Suresh Alahari, Phd, Courtney B. Lagarde

Investigator Suresh K. Alahari, PhD, FAAS, FASCB, Fred G. Brazda Professor at LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center collaborated with Matthew E. Burow, PhD Associate Professor of Medicine, Assistant Chair, Research at Tulane Cancer Center and Courtney B. Lagarde, MD/PhD Candidate in Tulane University School of Medicine’s Physician-Scientist Program.

“There is a wealth of research on how epigenetic changes can create an environment that is more favorable for cancer to develop but thereare very few papers that attempt to tie all of this research together. No one has done this kind of review in great detail and it provides a framework for additional research, laying the foundation for investigating how lifestyle or how health disparities can impact breast cancer,” Dr. Alahari said.

“The review found that the separate bodies of work are actually more related than had been previously thought and that is extremely relevant in Louisiana, which has a greater population affected by obesity, as well as a high incidence of cancers,” Lagarde explained.

Epigenetic alterations – which can be changes in the expression of genes without alteration in the DNA sequence - can occur in response to environmental conditions, to cell stresses, or to metabolic events. Obesity can affect what is happening epigenetically in a tumor microenvironment or in a cell and that can be a mechanism leading to breast cancer tumorigenesis or metastasis.

Manu Khosla (LSU), Suresh Alahari, Phd, Carter Arbogast (Tulane), Courtney B. Lagarde, Matthew Burow, PhD, Megan Benze (Tulane), Nicole Cullen (Tulane)

“There are targets that we can identify by understanding this research, by looking at the epigenetic regulation of a tumor, both the cancer cells and the and the tumor microenvironment, in the context of obesity. While genetic components and DNA mutation can influence the development ofcancer, other factors such as lifestyle, diet and environmental exposure also impact and individuals risk for cancer through epigenetic alterations.  Ultimately, this review asks can we understand how these factors converge at the level of epigenetic changes, and through that find novel targets and treatments?” Dr. Burow posited.

The researchers believe the review identified an important area of emerging research to address the impact of diet and lifestyle on cancer incidence, and to address  healthcare inequities and disparities that exist within Louisiana, an important research area of the Louisiana Cancer Research Center. (LCRC)

Drs. Alahari and Burow are on the faculty of the LCRC, which serves as a collaborative hub for the work of more than 200 researchers from across the state and four member institutions – LSU Health New Orleans, Tulane University School of Medicine, Xavier University of Louisiana, and OchsnerHealth.

“Fostering cancer research collaborations is the heart of the mission of the Louisiana Cancer Research Center and this work is evidence of the impact that approach can make.  Congratulations to Drs. Alahari, Burow, Courtney Lagarde and the entire Tulane-LSU team on their most recent published work, one of numerous efforts they have published together,” said Joe W. Ramos, PhD,  Director/CEO of the Louisiana Cancer Research Center and Director, LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center.

The team of Tulane and LSU scientists intend to pursue additional funding opportunities to investigate epigenetic connections between breast cancer and obesity.  Past collaborations that have resulted in published research include:


Targeting Mcl-1 by a small molecule NSC260594 fortriple-negative breast cancer therapy

LKB1 signaling and patient survival outcomes in hepatocellularcarcinoma

Ceritinib is a novel triple negative breast cancer therapeuticagent

Expression of Novel Kinase MAP3K19 in Various Cancers andSurvival Correlations

Role of Nischarin in the pathology of diseases: a specialemphasis on breast cancer

Evaluation of liver kinase B1 downstream signaling expressionin various breast cancers and relapse free survival after systemic chemotherapytreatment

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