Mother’s often tell their children to eat their vegetables. According to new research by David Williams, soon-to-be mothers should also eat their vegetables, particularly broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and others in the cruciferous vegetable family.

It has long been known that pregnant mother can expose her unborn child to a variety of harmful chemicals including alcohol and tobacco smoke. Williams’ latest and most exciting research on mice is the first to show that a mother’s diet can significantly protect her developing fetus. He and his research team exposed pregnant mice to a carcinogen typically found in grilled meats and tobacco smoke, causing lymphoma and lung cancer in offspring. Some of those pregnant mice were also given I3C (indole-3-carbinol) a cruciferous vegetable extract, throughout the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and lactation.

Williams found a decreased rate of lymphoma and liver cancer in offspring of mothers given I3C. Even more striking, the offspring were protected from through middle age, even though they never ate IC3 themselves and were only exposed in the womb and in breast milk.

Williams hopes to translate these promising results to human studies, perhaps surveying mothers who eat large or small amounts of cruciferous vegetables. Identifying biomarkers in mothers’ and placental blood will allow Williams to determine if these mothers are indeed protecting their children.

Another research avenue Williams has pursued throughout his career as a toxicologist at OSU is the differences of drug metabolism between individuals. Some of these differences are not subtle and can cause very serious consequences. Williams has long been involved in the study of an enzyme found in lung tissue. Initially scientists believed that most people did not have this enzyme since Asians and Caucasians typically do not have this enzyme. However, this proved incorrect. A fraction of African Americans and Hispanics do have this enzyme. Pharmaceutical developers must take these individual differences into consideration when creating new drugs. Some drugs are changed to very toxic by-products by this lung enzyme. Typically, these potential drugs are not pursued to avoid the possibility of a fatal result.

Individuals also differ greatly in the way their bodies react to medication. For example, the same dose of codeine can barely affect one individual while another person would have a very strong reaction. These differences in reactions are some of the most common causes of drug overdoses and emergency room visits. In the future, Williams suspects that doctors may be able to test each patient for individual drug metabolism differences and prescribe personalized doses for optimal impact and minimal negative outcomes.

Williams, a professor been in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, is a native to the Pacific Northwest. He is an alumnus of Reed College and Oregon State University. What keeps him curious as a scientist? He likes to find new area that others have not yet explored. Sometimes these lead to dead ends. And sometimes, such as the study of cancer prevention through mothers’ diets, these new areas are very exciting with much promise.

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