Leading diverse cancer research

Since cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, the research undertaken by the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is even more critical and compelling.  One of the Center’s largest and most ethnically diverse research projects is the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC), which follows more than 215,000 men and women primarily of African-American, Japanese, Latino, Native Hawaiian and Caucasian origin, including more than 70,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawai‘i.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1993, the MEC is being conducted at the Center and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. The ethnic diversity of Hawai‘i and California has made it possible to develop this large study with its unique representation of minority populations.

Established to examine lifestyle risk factors, especially diet and nutrition, as well as genetic susceptibility (an inherited tendency to react more strongly to particular exposures) in relation to the causation of cancer, every cohort member completed a specially designed, self-administered, 26-page baseline questionnaire on entry to the MEC Study (between 1993-1996). The questionnaire included an extensive quantitative diet history as well as background information and medical, medication, physical activity and female reproductive histories.

In addition to the baseline questionnaire, a four-page questionnaire was sent in 1999-2001 and another 26-page questionnaire was sent in 2003-2008 to gather additional information. Biological specimens (mainly blood and urine samples) were collected from selected members of the cohort, starting in 1996, but the main collection took place from 2001-2006. These specimens enable the research team to study dietary components measured in blood and urine in relation to cancer risk, and also the interaction between genetic susceptibility and diet.  Biological specimens on more than 70,000 cohort participants are being stored in special low temperature freezers in Hawai‘i and California.

The study will test many different hypotheses related to diet and other factors in order to determine why different ethnic groups have different risks of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. Some of the study’s goals are to improve understanding of ethnic/racial differences in cancer occurrence and bring important benefits to Hawai‘i and the Asia Pacific region, with the hopes of preventing cancer and other chronic diseases in the populations of the U.S. and rest of the world.

Dr. Larry Kolonel

Said principal investigator Dr. Larry Kolonel, “No other study of this type encompasses such diverse ethnic populations.  As a result, we are an essential participant in many national and international scientific collaborations that seek to understand how diet and genetics contribute to cancer causation, and how the knowledge we are gaining will help reduce the burden of cancer in Hawaii and globally.”

For more information on the MEC study, visit  http://www.crch.org/multiethniccohort/.