The disparity between African Americans and whites in cancer incidence and death is declining in Missouri, according to a study by Washington University School of Medicine researchers. “A lot of effort has been made to reduce cancer racial disparity in Missouri, but there is still work to be done, especially in decreasing cancer mortality,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Mario Schootman of the Prevention and Control Program at Siteman Cancer Center. “Ideally, cancer will become just another bump in the road, an illness that people will be able to live with for many decades and keep under control.”

       The report finds that in 1996, the rate of new cancer cases was 18 percent higher for African American Missourians but declined to 6 percent higher by 2003. Schootman says if the downward trend continues, the disparity between African American and white Missourians will have disappeared when the 2006 data is analyzed.

       However, racial disparity in overall cancer deaths remains disproportionate. In 2005, the cancer death rate was 28 percent higher for Missouri’s African Americans than for whites, down from a 48 percent higher cancer death rate for African Americans in 1990. Schootman says the slow pace of the decrease means that racial disparity in cancer deaths will probably continue for several more decades unless more aggressive interventions are used.

       Overall, the cancer incidence rate in Missouri decreased by 0.8 percent each year, possibly due to a drop in smoking rates and other preventive measures. Researchers say the racial disparity may be caused by such factors as differences in physical activity, weight, vitamin D deficiency, diabetes, diet and occupational exposure to pollutants.


    Washington University School of Medicine scientists have found that ‘calorie restriction’ a low-calorie, high-nutrient diet, may not be as effective in extending life for people as it is for rodents. Previous research had shown that lab animals who were given 30 to 50 percent less food lived up to 50 percent longer, leading many to believe that restricting calories could prolong human lives. But the new study suggests the diet may not have the desired effect unless people practicing calorie restriction also pay attention to their protein intake.

    Dr. Luigi Fontana, the study’s first author and assistant professor of medicine at Washington University, says researchers monitored a growth factor called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) in humans and lab animals. In calorie-restricted animals, levels of circulating IGF-1, produced primarily in the liver, decline between 30 and 40 percent. The researchers have been following a group of people who have been on long-term calorie-restriction, and Fontana notes, “We found no difference in IGF-1 levels between people on calorie restriction and those who are not.”

    Fontana’s team went on to research the role protein intake plays in IGF-1 levels, comparing a group of strict vegans to calorie-restricted individuals. They found that less protein in the diet seemed to correlate with lower levels of  IGF-1. Fontana admits his evidence is preliminary and future research is needed, but the findings of this latest study suggest that when people adjust their diets to improve health and longevity, they should control not only calories and fat but also keep an eye on protein. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is about 0.82 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 56 grams for an average adult male and 46 grams for an average adult female. “It’s much easier to restrict protein than to restrict calories,” Fontana says. “If our research is on the right track, maybe humans don’t need to be so calorie restricted. Limiting protein intake to .7 or .8 grams per kilogram per day might be more effective.”


    The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s medical clinic at Washington University School of Medicine has been chosen as one of 10 facilities nationwide to become part of MDA’s new Clinical Research Network. The clinics will function as clinical research centers, with five of them, including Washington University, supporting trials and studies in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). “Despite the many advances in our understanding of DMD in recent years, we still have much to learn about optimal medical management for this devastating disease,” says Valerie Cwik, MDA’s medical director and senior VP of research. She says the Washington University center will conduct well-controlled clinical studies to support the development of standards of care, ultimately improving care for all patients with DMD.