Liu leads team receiving $499,000 USDA grant

February 10, 2014

Zhenhua Liu, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, working with UMass Amherst faculty collaborators Richard Wood and Young-Cheul Kim (Department of Nutrition) and Hang Xiao (Department of Food Science), along with Tufts University’s Joel Mason,  recently received a four-year, $499,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant is for a project titled “Dietary and genetic inhibition of TNF-α suppresses obesity-associated intestinal tumorigenesis via diminishing Wnt-signaling.”

Liu and colleagues will examine the relationship between obesity and the associated risk factor it poses for colorectal cancer, in an effort to delineate the mechanism that is responsible for obesity-associated tumorigenesis. Current research in this area remains speculative, thwarting efforts aimed at creating diet-based prevention strategies.

Liu’s previous work has shown that obesity elevates Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF-α) in mouse colon; this increase in TNF-α occurs in parallel with alterations of several key components of critical colorectal pro-carcinogenic pathway, Wnt pathway. Liu’s most recent study, supported by a competitive intramural pilot grant, further demonstrated that genetic blockade of TNF-α diminished pro-carcinogenic indicators, leading to the team’s central hypothesis that obesity promotes colorectal tumorigenesis via TNF-α-induced activation of a pro-carcinogenic process called Wnt-signaling.

Liu and his team hope to determine whether dietary or genetic inhibition of TNF-α activation will suppress this signaling and thereby reduce rates of obesity-associated tumorigenesis.

“Defining this mechanism and related dietary avenues is very important because the magnitude of the obesity epidemic is growing, and with it the issue of obesity-induced colorectal cancer,” said Liu. “We hope the results of this study will translate into dietary prevention strategies that can be used to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.”