Steinhardt Professor Receives American Cancer Society Grant To Study Insulin’s Role in Obesity-Related Cancers

Niyati Parekh, an assistant professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, has received a $720,000 Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society to study the role of insulin in obesity-related cancers.

With approximately 30 percent of Americans now considered obese—up from about 15 percent in 1980—cancer rates are increasing in parallel with obesity, and recent evidence suggests that obesity may be responsible for about half of all cancers in the U.S.

Parekh’s study aims to better understand this linkage, which may center on the body’s insulin.

“It has been theorized that insulin acts as a growth factor for cancer cells and produces an overall environment that is conducive to cancer development,” explains Parekh, a faculty member in Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health. “Obese persons commonly have higher blood levels of insulin, which may enhance their risk of cancer.”

But the genes under the influence of insulin involved in the onset of cancer have not yet been studied, Parekh notes.

“Taken together, there are several unanswered questions surrounding the insulin, carbohydrate diet, and cancer connection,” Parekh adds. “Understanding this connection is a critical control point for the prevention of cancers in which obesity may be a primary cause.”

Her study, Cancer, Insulin Resistance, and Lifestyle (CIRCLE), aims to address these knowledge gaps by investigating the separate and combined impact of blood markers, genetic factors, and diet related to insulin and glucose metabolism in the
development of obesity-related cancers.

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