39. Relationships among obesity, Type 2 diabetes and plasma cytokines in African American Women

Denis, G., et al, 2017

African American women have higher risk of poor-prognosis triple negative breast cancer and breast cancer mortality than white women, and scientists have been looking at reasons for these discrepancies. For this study, researchers wanted to explore the ways obesity, Type 2 diabetes and the action of “cytokines,” small proteins released by cells, play a part in these outcomes for African American women with breast cancer.

Cytokines have a specific effect on the interactions between cells, on communications between cells or on the behavior of cells. Not all these effects are negative, but sometimes they do add to the rise of inflammation in the body, a contributing factor in many diseases, including breast cancer.


Researchers wanted to examine cytokines in African American women with Type 2 diabetes and obesity to see if their presence may indicate metabolic risk of those two conditions.  For the study, they used specimens donated to the Komen Tissue Bank by African American women. All donors had a body mass index of greater than 25 (overweight) or 30 (obese), and 75 percent had Type 2 diabetes. The remainder were overweight/obese but did not have Type 2 diabetes.

They also examined breast tissue biomarkers to see the differences between women with Type 2 diabetes and those without the disease.


Researchers found six cytokines associated with Type 2 diabetes from the 88 they examined.  Four were elevated in diabetes patients and two were elevated in non-diabetes patients. But they did not find significant differences the inflammatory molecules or other factors in the two groups. They did find, however, that cytokines are associated with body mass index.

They also observed that adipocytes (indicators of inflammation) in breast tissue were larger and less healthy in the Type 2 diabetes samples compared that of non-diabetes samples.

Why this study is important:

Many studies aim to find more ways to predict breast cancer risk in a way that acknowledges group and even individual characteristics. African American women with obesity, who experience elevated risk from diseases such as breast cancer, could benefit from more personalized profiling of biomarkers such as cytokines and the inflammation and other effects they cause.