Making chemotherapy easier to swallow

U of A researcher Catherine Field says Omega-3 fatty acids could amplify the effects of breast cancer treatment.

Kirsten Bauer - 21 May 2019

Could a simple dietary supplement amplify the effects of chemotherapy? It's a question U of A professor Catherine Field has studied for twenty years. The U of A professor, '88 PhD, first became curious about the link between Omega-3 fatty acids and breast cancer, after a student experiment suggested that the fatty acids could actually stop certain types of cancer cells from growing.

"Researchers at the time were starting to associate fish consumption with reduced risk of cancer," Field said. "So we started comparing results with normal and cancerous cells. We learned that the normal cells grew fine, but the cancer cells would not. So we've been experimenting with those for a long time."

After decades of research, the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environment Sciences professor and former co-director of the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta (CRINA) anticipates the first clinical trial to begin in June 2019. Omega-3 supplements will be given to breast cancer patients in conjunction with their cancer therapies, with the hope of making the treatments more effective.

"This has been nearly 20 years in the making, so it's really exciting to see this finally coming together," Field said. "There is potential to significantly boost the effects of chemotherapy, which would reduce the amount of time people would need to tolerate that discomfort."

Field says there is really compelling data linking high fish diets and reduced cancer risk, but specially formulated supplements can be taken at a much higher concentration at relatively low cost.

"And for people who are vegans, there are vegan sources, so taking omega-3 fatty acids doesn't mean only eating fish and taking fish oil capsules," Field said.

Field will discuss her research during the Festival of Health's Rapid-Fire Presentations and Ask the Experts: Q & A Sessions starting at 1 p.m. The festival is a free event and open to the public. Event information and a link for tickets is below.

Festival of Health

Register here for your free ticket

May 25, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Edmonton Clinic Health Academy

North Campus, University of Alberta

Booths and Children's Activities Area

10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Learning Session and Tours Block 1

10:30 - 11:30 a.m.

Barbecue and Entertainment

11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Rapid Fire Presentations and Ask The Experts: Q & A Session

1 - 2:30 p.m.

Learning Sessions and Tours Block 2

3 - 4 p.m.

More information available at