HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – According to researchers at Marshall University, a maternal diet high in omega-3 fatty acids protects against developing breast cancer in the offspring. In a new study recently published by Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, researchers found a significant difference between mice from mothers who were fed a diet high in canola oil compared to mothers who were fed a diet high in corn oil. A maternal omega-3-rich diet influenced genome-wide changes in the epigenetic landscape of the offspring and possibly modulated gene expression patterns.

Dr. Ata Abbas, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Marshall Department of Biological Sciences, led a research team led by Dr. Philippe Georgel at the College of Science. The research was conducted at the Cell Differentiation and Development Center in Marshall as part of a collaboration with the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine under the direction of Dr. W. Elaine Hardman performed.

Researchers found a three-week delay in mortality in mice fed mothers canola oil versus corn oil. The early delay in mortality was significantly different, but the final overall survival rate was not. Eventually, all of the mice developed tumors, but those fed the canola oil had tumors that grew slower and were smaller than the mice fed the corn oil. Transferred to the human time scale, the duration of the protective effect in connection with the mother’s diet would be several months (Sengupta et al., 2016).

This study is part of the work of researchers at Marshall University and others investigating the link between omega-3 fatty acids and a reduced incidence of various cancers, including, but not limited to, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

“Parental nutrition and intergenerational transmission has become an important area of ​​research; the mode of action often remains elusive, however, ”said Georgel, professor at Marshall’s Department of Biological Sciences. “The MU research group focused on ‘epigenetic’ aspects of transgenerational transmission to explain the reported role of omega-3 fatty acids. Epigenetics includes changes in gene expression that are not related to changes in genetic sequences. These results have the potential to encourage the development of simple dietary changes that would reduce the incidence of various types of cancer, not just for those who take the diet, but also for their offspring. ”


The study was conducted with funding from the Department of Defense Health Program and the National Institutes of Health.

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