BY AMBER SMITH
The backstory: Today Frank Middleton is an associate professor at Upstate with appointments in three departments and extensive research related to neurological and psychiatric diseases. A few decades ago, he was a doctoral student at Upstate Medical University.
He attended a lecture by John Lucas, PhD, about the “Bacon Mismatch Repair Pathway.”
Lucas now works at an international biomedical research institute in Philadelphia. In the 1990s, when Middleton was working on his doctorate, Lucas was a biochemist focused on the field of glycobiology. For his lecture, Lucas presented slides demonstrating how cells use the repair pathway for DNA alterations that are introduced by high levels of nitrates in bacon.
“It stuck with me,” Middleton recalls. “It is an established fact that there is a significantly greater risk of DNA modification in cells exposed to high nitrates.”
He shares an article from the journal Nucleic Acids Research that explains how carcinogenic compounds form and may prompt mutations that lead to cancer: “The smoking process of meats is thought to introduce heterocyclic amine byproducts in the food, and the curing process involves nitrate salts that cause nitroso-compounds, which are thought to act as potential mutagens,” says the article from 2006.
Middleton says the molecular mechanisms are all completely worked out now.
“It’s a fact that it happens, and that our cells can respond to these mutations and repair them. But, over one’s lifetime, certain cells that are continually exposed to these types of mutagens will become less efficient at repair, and — voila — you can have a cancer cell.”
This article appears in the summer 2016 issue of Upstate Health magazine.