File photo by Justin Ide/Harvard Staff Photographer


Grant backs study of cancer-obesity link

3 min read

School of Public Health gets $10 million for new research center

The Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has been awarded a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for a new research center to study the relationship between obesity and cancer. The center is part of a new multicenter cooperative research initiative, called Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC), announced June 28 by the NCI. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and co-director of the Program in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention, is the principal investigator for the Harvard TREC Center.

The Harvard TREC Center is one of four research centers awarded $45 million over five years. The others are the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; the University of California, San Diego; and Washington University, St. Louis. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, is the TREC Coordinating Center.

The TREC centers will integrate the study of diet, weight, and physical activity and their effects on energy balance and cancer, and will provide training opportunities for researchers. Projects range from a study on the mechanisms of energy balance to the behavioral, sociocultural, and environmental influences on nutrition, physical activity, and weight in cancer survivors and other high-risk populations.

The Harvard TREC Center will draw on the multidisciplinary expertise of the faculty of HSPH, Harvard Medical School, the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, and the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. The Harvard center is designed to increase the understanding of the determinants of obesity from the molecular to societal level and across the life span, to clarify the biological links of obesity with cancer risk and survivorship, to translate these findings into actionable behavioral interventions, to train the next generation of investigators in energetics (the study of energy balance) and cancer, and to share this knowledge and develop public health strategies to reduce risk of obesity and cancer.

“NCI is very concerned about the epidemic of obesity and its implications for cancer,” said Robert Croyle, director of the NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. “This investment reflects the urgency of the problem and the need to accelerate scientific progress to inform cancer-control strategies.”

“The Harvard TREC Center brings together investigators of diverse expertise from Boston’s Longwood Medical Area to address critical questions related to energy balance, obesity, and cancer risk,” said Hu. “Through a transdisciplinary approach, we can improve the understanding of the link between obesity and cancer risk and survivorship. Ultimately, this knowledge will be translated into public health strategies that reduce risk of obesity and cancer in the population.”