U Michigan Researchers Get Grant To Study Liver Cancer Fungi

Everything seems to be about COVID-19 right now, and while it’s essential to focus attention on the pandemic and the funding going towards mitigating it, there are other things still going on. People are still struggling in other ways, and other illnesses still need to be studied, with possible treatments getting trialed. People are still sick, and research can even save lives in the long-term. For example, researchers at the University of Michigan recently found out that they will be receiving a grant to study the fungus that causes liver cancer.

Two researchers:

David Hennesy, the Elton R Smith Chair at U Michigan’s Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, and Felicia Wu, John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics received a grant in the amount of $478,000. This USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant has been awarded to these researchers by the USDA.

The research being conducted is quite interesting because it has to do with our food system. These researchers are working to see whether genetically modified (GMO) bt corn, has lower levels of a specific fungal toxin called aflatoxin that causes Liver Cancer.

Liver cancer aflatoxin
Chemical structure of aflatoxin B1

Aflatoxin is produced by fungi that infect corn when there is insect damage to it, and it is often visible on fruits or vegetables that have a ring of mold around it where the insects were.

Here is the question their research poses:

Bt corn, which is genetically modified to produce pesticides that target insects (generally harmless to other animals), has less insect damage as a result and, therefore, less fungal infection. So with those factors in play, does that mean that Bt corn can reduce the presence of aflatoxin?

Felicia Wu, who is the co-researcher on this project, says that if this is true, it could have massive health and economic benefits, because since aflatoxin causes Liver Cancer, the FDA regulates it strictly, which sometimes can cause a significant cost increase to corn growers.

Wu spoke on some of the actual research aspects:

“We will use crop insurance claims around the United States from corn growers in 2001-2016 to determine if aflatoxin-related insurance claims are decreased as a function of Bt corn planting”

Liver cancer is actually incredibly rare, only affecting 1% of the U.S population, but the rate of Americans being treated for Liver cancer or Liver cancer complications has risen dramatically over the past few decades, which makes it a major public health concern.

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