Fighting cancer with functional foods
Research in Dr. Benninghoff’s laboratory centers on a key priority area for the U.S. Department of Agriculture – investigations on the function and efficacy of foods, specifically functional whole foods that promote gastrointestinal health. Her research team employs pre-clinical animal models to investigate the interactions of basal diet, functional foods and the gut microbiome on inflammation-associated colorectal cancer. Over the past five years, they have learned that consumption of a Western type diet markedly increased gut inflammation and development of colon tumors in mice. Moreover, in a multi-generation mouse study, her laboratory showed that ancestral (great-grandparent) exposure to this Western diet promoted colon tumor development in never-exposed, third-generation offspring. Conversely, Dr. Benninghoff’s team also study the potential beneficial effects of dietary intervention with foods rich in bioactive polyphenols, which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammation properties, such as green tea, tart cherries and black raspberries. Results from these studies show that the efficacy of dietary intervention with these functional foods depends on basal nutrition, with green tea and black raspberries effective in mice fed a Western diet and tart cherries effective only in mice fed a healthy diet. In a new project sponsored by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Dr. Benninghoff is continuing her promising work with black raspberries to determine whether their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer effects are mediated by the gut microbiome.
About Dr. Benninghoff
Abby Benninghoff is an Associate Professor in Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences and the School of Veterinary Medicine at Utah State University. In 1997, she received her B.S. with dual majors in Biochemistry and Biology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She then completed her doctoral research in Marine Science, with a focus on comparative endocrinology, at the University of Texas at Austin in 2004. Dr. Benninghoff then worked as a post-doctoral research associate at Oregon State University, where she received additional training in the areas of toxicology and carcinogenesis. In 2010, she joined the USU faculty and initiated a multidisciplinary research program in toxicology, cancer and epigenetics. Dr. Benninghoff’s laboratory currently includes four graduate students and ten undergraduate student researchers. She also collaborates with faculty across campus, including scientists in the departments of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science and Chemistry and Biochemistry. Dr. Benninghoff is an affiliate faculty member of the USTAR Applied Nutrition Research program, which has a research focus on gut microbiota, diet and health.