Can folate deficiency in utero increase the risk of cancer in later life?

From April 2002 to September 2005
Project Leader(s): Prof John Mathers, & Dr E. A. Williams (Uni of Sheffield)

Staff: Kevin Waltham (Research Associate)
Sponsors: World Cancer Research Fund

Overview of project: Epidemiological and animal studies suggest that folic acid reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. The very high rate of somatic mutation in utero coupled with comprised folate status may elevate cancer risk at this early stage of life. In order to investigate the relationship between in utero nutritional status and disease outcome later in life would take decades to accomplish in a human trial. A study was designed to test the hypothesis that folate deficiency during embryogenesis increases the risk of colo-rectal cancer later in life. Folic acid supplementation in the offspring reduces the cancer risk posed by folate deficient embryogenesis.

The objectives of the study are:

  • To establish the critical threshold level of intake of folate required during pregnancy to sustain the Apc Min offspring in the second generation for three months of life.
  • Having established the critical threshold level of intake, to then investigate the effect of maternal folate deficiency on intestinal tumourigemesis in the Apc Min offspring.
  • To investigate whether the effect of maternal folate deficiency may be reversed by folic acid supplementation in offspring.

Dates of Project: April 2002 - September 2005

Value of Project: £100,000


Professor John Mathers
Professor of Human Nutrition