Her fascination with how the human body works started in 7th grade. “I was doing a science project on human evolution, and it all just clicked for me,” says Urszula Iwaniec, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise sciences. “Anthropology became my first love, and because I had always been interested in diet, I focused on paleonutrition, which is the study of nutrition in the archaeological record.” After studying the habits and lifestyles of those long dead and working on digs in Central America, she decided to work “among the living.” It’s a good thing for us that she did.
One of Urszula’s current research interests focuses on prevention of breast cancer metastases to bone. She has recently collaborated with investigators at the Mayo Clinic and found promising results in the reduction of breast cancer spread to bone. The study was featured on the cover of Cancer Research magazine. “We found that high doses of 2-Methoxyestradiol, or 2ME2, given to mice proved almost 100 percent successful in slowing tumor growth and the spread of breast cancer cells to bone marrow,” she explains. Surprisingly, we can look to our own bodies for the “treatment” — 2ME2 occurs in low levels naturally in women. Standard treatments for breast cancer recurrence work by decreasing the production of estrogen, slowing cancer growth but often damaging bones. However, the high-dose 2ME2 treatment in mice killed the cancer with no detrimental effect on the bone. Iwaniec and study co-authors at both the Mayo Clinic and OSU are encouraged. “What’s great about 2ME2 is it slows cancer growth before it spreads to bone,” says Urszula. “It’s a two for one, and we haven’t seen any detrimental side effects of the treatment so far.” Clinical trials are underway with humans receiving 2ME2 orally, and Iwaniec hopes that a more potent version of the drug is made available soon. “Currently we are treating the symptoms of breast cancer metastases to bone; with 2ME2 it may be possible to treat the symptoms and the cause,” she says hopefully.
Urszula and Professor Russell Turner, head of OSU’s Bone Research Laboratory, are eager to study whether we can increase our own production of the naturally occurring 2ME2 through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes and actually prevent the development of cancer. “We are a long way from a cure for breast cancer,” says Urszula, “so the most effective treatment may be prevention.”