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Maryland Researcher to Use Metabolomics to Study Breast Cancer Survivorship

Metabolomics, the study of the substances formed in metabolism, is a new method researchers are using to get a comprehensive snapshot of a person’s physiological state. Dr. Cher Dallal, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, will be receiving intensive training in metabolomics and using it to look at racial disparities in breast cancer survival, thanks to a five-year American Cancer Society (ACS) Mentored Research Scholar Grant.


[Photo: Dr. Cher Dallal]

“There’s a persistent disparity observed among African-American women versus white women in breast cancer survivorship,” she said. “We know very little about the physical activity of African-American breast cancer survivors.”

For the study, Dr. Dallal will recruit 100 African-American and white breast cancer survivors from the UM Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, six to nine months after their treatment. Participants will wear an accelerometer–a Fitbit-like device that takes detailed and accurate measurements–for one week. The women’s physical activity and sedentary behavior will be tracked, together with metabolomic information that will be obtained by blood samples. The question researchers are seeking to answer: are physical activity and sedentary behaviors associated with metabolomic profiles among breast cancer survivors?

Dr. Dallal will also look at the participants’ socioeconomic status, as well as their neighborhoods, obesity and dietary factors, and such traditional factors of survivorship as the types of tumors that the women had.

In addition to supporting Dr. Dallal’s study, the ACS grant will provide resources for intensive training in the rapidly emerging field of metabolomics, which is an area in which she says more junior investigators are needed.

Dr. Dallal’s research will be conducted under the guidance of a cross-campus mentoring team that includes Dr. Joanne Dorgan (UMB School of Medicine, division director of cancer epidemiology), Dr. James Hagberg (UMD School of Public Health, Department of Kinesiology), and Dr. Stephen Thomas (UMD School of Public Health, Health Services Administration and director, Maryland Center for Health Equity).

Dr. Dorgan, a cancer epidemiologist, will provide mentorship based on her expertise in the molecular epidemiology of breast cancer and on lifestyle risk factors. Dr. Thomas will contribute extensive expertise in conducting disparities research, mentoring Dr. Dallal in the recruitment of minority populations. Dr. Hagberg will contribute expertise in exercise physiology.

The ACS is the largest non-government, not-for-profit cancer research funder in the country, awarding 87 grants totaling over $45 million in the second of two cycles this year. The grants will fund investigators at 64 institutions across the United States. Dr. Dallal’s grant for “Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Breast Cancer Racial Disparities” (MRSG-16-164-01-CPBB) will go into effect at the beginning of 2017.