SPH Professor Receives $1.7M for Breast Cancer Research

JoEllen Welsh, sitting in her lab at the Cancer Research Center.

ALBANY, NY (March 23, 2021) – With a $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, a School of Public Health professor is working to determine how dietary vitamin K affects the progression of breast cancer.

JoEllen Welsh is a SUNY Distinguished Professor with a research lab at SPH’s Cancer Research Center and is internationally known for her cell and molecular studies on the role of nutrition in breast cancer. Welsh explains that while it is well accepted that diet influences cancer development and progression, there are many gaps in our knowledge of the mechanisms by which specific nutrients alter the cancer process.

Vitamin K is naturally present in our diet and exists in two forms– phylloquinone and menaquinone –found in green, leafy vegetables and animal products such as meat, eggs and cheese, respectively. The new five-year project entitled “Vitamin K: Body Pools and Function in Breast Cancer” will investigate the impact of these specific forms of dietary vitamin K on breast cancer progression using cellular and animal models.

To do this, the team will use screening approaches to identify targets that mediate the effects of dietary vitamin K signaling in human breast cancer cells. Welsh anticipates that these studies will provide insight into how vitamin K compounds affect aggressive disease and whether diets or therapies that modulate this pathway could benefit survival of patients living with breast cancer.

Welsh explained that her lab will also measure metabolism and accumulation of these vitamin K compounds in normal tissues and tumors to assess how the cancer process alters vitamin K actions.