dr. Elien Alderweireldt (PhD)
Postdoctoral researcher - Department of Food Safety and Food Quality, Research Group Food Chemistry and Human Nutrition (UGent) and Laboratory Experimental Cancer Research (Ghent University Hospital)
Principal Investigators: prof. Andreja Rajkovic (PhD) and prof. John Van Camp (PhD)
It is estimated that one third of colorectal cancer (CRC) cases could be avoided by changes in lifestyle, for example through a healthy and balanced diet. Indeed, cells in the colonic epithelium, either healthy or malignant, are in close contact to the dynamic and complex digestion matrix of our food, which may affect oncogenic processes in different ways. In our research project, we consider the consumption of red and processed meat on the one hand and fiber-rich food on the other hand as case study to investigate the role of diet in CRC. Given the unique nutritional context of colon (cancer) cells, we focus on alterations in metabolism and metabolic flexibility as markers of cancer progression.
3D cell models are used, including cell line-based cancer spheroids and wild type or knock-out murine organoids. Food-derived metabolites expected in the colon as result of digestion and/or microbial fermentation are added in a chronic exposure approach to measure long-term effects rather than acute toxicity. Responses in terms of proliferation, metabolism, and communication with the tumor microenvironment are measured using extracellular flux analysis, molecular techniques, live-cell imaging, and cytokine measurements. Moreover, the impact of nutrient richness of the tumor microenvironment is investigated to evaluate the impact of dietary habits on the metabolic flexibility of cancer cells.
This research may contribute to a better understanding of how the nutritional environment of cancer cells supports metabolic flexibility and of the limited success of antimetabolite therapies, and lead to more concrete nutritional recommendations for cancer patients.