A fifth period, focused on nutrition and cancer risk, began in the 1970s as another spin-off of the folic acid period. Epidemiological evidence suggestive of an interaction between oral contraceptive agents, folic acid deficiency, and endometrial cancer, prompted pioneering studies by Dr. Butterworth and collaborators supporting this putative interaction. Shortly thereafter, the then novel concept of localized nutrient deficiencies was extended by Dr. Krumdieck, who proposed that tissues chronically exposed to agents such as tobacco smoke, known to accelerate the destruction of labile micronutrients, would be more likely to undergo neoplastic transformation. Work along these lines was initially pursued by Chandrika Piyathilake, Ph.D., and Dr. Heimburger, both now senior scientists at UAB's Comprehensive Cancer Center and still committed to investigating the role of nutritional factors in the prevention and pathogenesis of cancer. Gary Johaning, Ph.D., a molecular biologist with interest in nutrition and cancer, joined the department in 1993 and is currently evaluating associations among DNA methylation, biomarker expressions, and nutritional status in breast cancer tissues. Recently he has investigated the influence of folic acid on neoplastic progression as it relates to the development of resistance to chemotherapeutic agents.
Recognition of the growth and quality of the department led in 1979 to its being the first in the nation to be awarded a Clinical Nutrition Research Unit Grant supported by the National Cancer Institute. This unit, which functioned for 15 years, contributed greatly to further the development of the department, funding promising young investigators campus-wide and establishing research collaborations effective to this day. In 1985 Clinton Grubbs, Ph.D., an expert on animal models of cancer was recruited by Dr. Krumdieck to help study the role of dietary components and synthetic analogs thereof as potential cancer chemopreventive agents. He soon developed a very active program collaborating with many scientists from within UAB and from outside the university. His growing expertise in in vivo testing procedures to evaluate potential cancer preventive agents led him, in 1998, to establish a chemoprevention laboratory reporting directly to the dean of the School of Health Professions but maintaining close and productive relations with Nutrition Sciences.
Dr. Prince, already mentioned because of his involvement in folic acid-related research and in the development of the Ph.D. program, must be recognized here as the co-discoverer of osteopontin, a bone matrix protein whose gene is one of a few consistently expressed in association with the development of tumor metastasis. Work on this protein is actively pursued to this day by Dr. Prince and by Dr. Pi-Ling Chang, the first Ph.D. graduated from the Department of Nutrition Sciences at UAB, whom he mentored during her doctoral training.