While all of the 6,700 bicycle riders in the Pelotonia fund raising event in Columbus last week were pedaling to defeat cancer, there was one team that is looking for ways consuming food can help prevent the disease. About 20 members of the Ohio State University research group calling themselves “Crops to the Clinic” rode in the event. Their work is housed in the Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship. See their website online
. It is a multidisciplinary center among several colleges across the OSU campus.
“The primary goal is research and development of foods, nutrients, and phytochemicals that have potential to improve health,” says Robin Ralston, program manager of CAFFRE. The program is unique in that it is one of the few that links colleges within the university. In this case the collaboration is between College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences with the OSU College of Medicine. They do studies with the Department of Food Sciences, the Department of Horticulture and the medical center on that may help prevent cancer.
“It’s a pretty unique relationship,” Ralston says. “It’s not that often that medical researchers work with agricultural products.”
Their primary research involves tomatoes, soy, berries -- mainly black raspberries, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, and omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish.
Funding is always an issue for the group, which is why events like Pelotonia are important in focusing attention. Research projects are generally funded through the National Institutes of Health or USDA through competitive grants, but we also have some smaller projects with food companies as well as some University funds through the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
“Of course competitive Pelotonia grants are also helpful,” Ralston adds.
Steve Schwartz is director of CAFFRE and Steve Clinton is associate director.
Steve Schwartz is a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. He focuses on phytochemical analysis using very sensitive methods like high performance liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry to measure very low levels of compounds in complex systems.
“Not only is it important to measure the level of a particular compound in the food, but also the levels of this compound and its metabolites once the food is consumed – this means analyzing the plasma, urine, and tissue of the study participants,” Ralston says.
Clinton, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Comprehensive Cancer Center is an oncologist. He specifically focuses on prostate cancer. In addition to being involved in human clinical trials, and also is active in studies involving preclinical models on cells and animals to help understand the mechanisms behind a particular intervention.
“Human clinical studies are very expensive and time consuming, so it is important that there is significant preliminary data before embarking on one,” Ralston says. “Preliminary data is also essential to acquire funding for the clinical trial.”
Yael Vodovotz, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, conducts research to develop these raw materials into foods that can be used for clinical trials. For a clinical intervention trial, the food has to be exactly the same throughout the duration of the trial, and also should be in a form that is easily consumable by the study participant and deliver the nutrient/phytochemical in a form that has maximum absorption by the body, explains Ralston.
Neal Hooker, a professor at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, takes the Crops to the Clinic research to the consumer. He has an economics background, and studies food and nutrition policy and trends in food marketing such as consumer response to functional foods, nutrition labeling and health claims
Riders had six options: 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-mile rides lasting a day; and 155- and 180-mile runs lasting two days. The group had the support of Doug Loudenslager, with Evolution Ag who helped provide team jerseys. They raised more than $23,000 as part of $11 million that was raised in this year’s Pelotonia event.
“The Crops to the Clinic team not only raised a lot of money for cancer research at Ohio State, they are doing great work every day,” Loudenslager says.
That’s for sure. Ride on!