Professor, Department of Nutrition
Nutrition Research Institute and
Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
Thirty percent of the world’s population, (over 2 billion people), is overweight or obese. Research has shown that obesity increases the risk of breast cancer after menopause and impacts breast cancer survival after a diagnosis, making it imperative to identify the complex factors involved in the obesity-breast cancer link. One possible explanation for this link may be metabolic alterations and chronic inflammation that result from obesity and are known to promote tumor growth. Work by Dr. Hursting in collaboration with Carol Fabian suggests that weight loss alone may not be enough to reverse these perturbations, leading them to consider a two-pronged approach. Drawing on their respective expertise in biology and clinical trials, the two researchers are working to develop cancer prevention strategies that combine weight loss (to normalize energy metabolism) with omega-3 fatty acids (to reduce inflammation). The ultimate goal of this unique collaboration is to accelerate progress in identifying biological targets and to develop strategies to safely prevent obesity-related breast cancer.
Dr. Stephen Hursting is Professor in the Department of Nutrition and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC-Chapel Hill and Professor at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in Kannapolis, NC. He earned his PhD in nutritional biochemistry and MPH in nutritional epidemiology from the UNC-Chapel Hill, and he completed postdoctoral training in molecular carcinogenesis and cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Prior to joining the UNC faculty in 2014, Dr. Hursting was Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin and Professor of Molecular Carcinogenesis at the UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center (2005-14). He also served as Deputy Director of the NCI’s Office of Preventive Oncology and Chief of the NCI’s Nutrition and Molecular Carcinogenesis Laboratory Section (1999-2005). His research interests center on diet-gene interactions relevant to cancer prevention, particularly the molecular and metabolic mechanisms underlying obesity-breast cancer associations, and the interplay between obesity, diabetes and breast cancer risk and response to therapy. Primarily using genetically engineered mouse models of breast cancer in parallel with breast cancer prevention trials (in collaboration with Dr. Carol Fabian at the Kansas Cancer Center), he is currently focusing on the molecular and metabolic changes occurring in response to lifestyle-based (dietary and physical activity), or pharmacologic manipulation of energy metabolism and cell signaling pathways, with emphasis on the IGF-1/Akt/mTOR and Wnt signaling pathways as well as inflammation. He also has expertise in assessing diet-related serum and tissue biomarkers, including hormones/growth factors, cytokines and chemokines, and microRNA’s in mouse and human samples.