Cancer affects billions of individuals worldwide and many are seeking answers for prevention methods.
Zora Djuric, Ph.D., professor, a well-known researcher in the role of nutrition in cancer prevention and better health, was selected as a Fulbright Global Scholar. Her work to establish global collaborations that lead to new approaches for prevention of cancer is currently underway at the University of Belgrade in Serbia. This award will also take her to the Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama and the National Cancer Hospital in Guatemala, along with the University of Queensland in Australia.
“Globally, the cancer problem has not been solved. As countries take on Western lifestyles, chronic diseases including cancer become a growing public health issue. In addition, cancer survivors face a disproportionate burden of mortality from co-morbidities after cancer treatment is completed. Compounding the problem is the rising rate of obesity worldwide. Obesity increases the risks of 13 cancers, accounting for 4.5 million deaths globally. Obesity also decreases serum concentrations of most beneficial nutrients,” explained Dr. Djuric. “There is an urgent need to identify new cancer preventive strategies, and my work will be one step towards this goal.”
Dr. Djuric has expertise in in developing clinical trials using biomarker endpoints. Her work, to date, includes cancer prevention trials with low-fat diets, calorie-restricted diets, high fruit and vegetable diets, ginger, curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids. She also has significant experience in maximizing health in cancer survivorship. With this award, she plans to collaborate with other international experts to share knowledge and inspire the design of future research.
The specific aims of her Fulbright endeavor are:
- To conduct research on dietary patterns for potential use in cancer prevention at the Center of Excellence in Nutrition and Metabolism Research (CENM) at the University of Belgrade.
- To investigate the use of traditional medicinal plants in breast cancer patients in Guatemala, a country in the midst of the nutrition transition to a Western dietary pattern.
- To evaluate use of complementary and alternative therapies by metastatic breast cancer patients at University of Queensland, and to learn about methods to extend the reach of delivering dietary interventions to cancer patients.
“Through the Global Scholar mechanism, I plan to publish in a scientific journal following my research at each institution and to form the groundwork for future collaborations and grant proposals that will fund clinical trials using novel dietary intervention approaches,” said Dr. Djuric. “I also plan to build on these contacts to enrich the cadre of researchers who utilize international collaborations for developing innovative interventions for cancer prevention.”
The First Step
In the midst of the initial segment of her three-part project, Dr. Djuric is currently immersed in Serbian culture at the Center of Excellence in Nutrition and Metabolism Research at the University of Belgrade. Here she is analyzing data on dietary intakes, including both timing of meals and intakes of major food sources of polyphenols (herbals, fruit, tea, chocolate, etc.) in the Serbian population with the center’s director, Dr. Marija Glibetić.
Polyphenols have strong potential for breast cancer prevention. Aronia melanocarpa juice, or black chokeberry that is native to North America, is the richest known food source of polyphenols. Dr. Glibetić has developed a standardized high polyphenol Aronia (chokeberry) juice and a matched placebo. Using Dr. Glibetić’s data, Dr. Djuric will evaluate individual factors that affect the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of polyphenols.
As a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Djuric will be involved in many educational activities during her tenure at each site, including participating in research group meetings and giving public lectures on her work in dietary cancer prevention. Most recently she gave a lecture titled, “The Effects of Obesity on the Anti-inflammatory Effects of Fish Oils” at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia, where she also had the opportunity to speak with a reporter from Radio Novi Sad about research on the role of nutrition in prevention. You can listen to the report, in Serbian, here.
Please see the photo slideshow above to view Dr. Djuric’s experiences to date in Serbia.
Her Work Continues
In September 2018, Dr. Djuric will embark on the second segment of this Fulbright award. She will travel to Guatemala and conduct research at the Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama and the National Cancer Hospital. During her month in Guatemala, Dr. Djuric’s goal is collect data on traditional Mayan diets and use of medicinal plants in breast cancer patients.
The final segment of her award will be at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Starting in October 2018, she will participate in research on lifestyle interventions aimed at improving the health of advanced breast cancer patients.
"We are so excited to see this work by Dr. Djuric. Cancer prevention is so important, and she is doing incredibly innovative work to look for better ways to accomplish this goal,” said Philip Zazove, M.D., the George A. Dean, M.D. Chair of Family Medicine. “The entire Department is very supportive of what she's doing and sends congratulations. We are looking forward to seeing what she discovers."
Please check back in the fall for more details on these future research endeavors, along with updates and photos from Dr. Djuric.
Dr. Djuric is one of more than 800 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research, and/or provide expertise abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program. She, like all recipients of Fulbright awards, are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as record of service and demonstrated leadership in their fields.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.
Dr. Djuric is the third Department of Family Medicine Fulbright Scholar in recent history. She is preceded by Sara L. Warber, M.D., now emeritus professor, and Michael D. Fetters, M.D., M.P.H., M.A., professor. Dr. Warber studied nature-deficit disorder at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom in 2014 and Dr. Fetters led a joint research project with colleagues at Peking University Health Science Center focused on Chinese physicians’ attitudes regarding cancer communication in both the diagnosis and treatment stages in 2016.