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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Several major studies identify smoking, diet, sunbathing and alcohol abuse as the leading avoidable causes of cancer among the general European population. The ability of certain diets to protect against cancer has been well documented. However, the long latency periods and confounding factors, associated with this disease make it extremely difficult to demonstrate beneficial effects attributable to specific nutrients. As even a modest reduction in the occurrence of cancer would generate huge social and economic savings, the European Union is keen to develop foods that could help either prevent or fight the disease. With 24 partners from 13 Member States, the ECNIS Network of Excellence will use exposure biomarkers and disease bioindicators to study how diet and hereditary factors can influence the risk of cancer from environmental factors.


Diet can contribute to overall human exposure to environmental carcinogens and carcinogens generated during food processing, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines and dioxins. Nutrition can also modulate endogenous formation of carcinogens or genotoxins, the function of metabolic enzymes, and the growth of neoplasia. Since most types of exposure are lifestyle-related and lowimpact, it is difficult to assess them using traditional epidemiological methods. Moreover, as hereditary and dietary factors can modulate the effects of exposure, large human cohorts - comprising thousands of individuals and long-term follow-up - are required to identify key carcinogenic or modulating agents.

Biomarkers measure quantitative changes in a biological system caused by exposure to xenobiotic substances, at the cellular, tissue, fluid or organ level. Bioindicators measure changes at the organism, cohort or population level. Molecular epidemiology, using exposure biomarkers, may considerably improve conventional techniques by reducing misclassification and decreasing the time between exposure and the appearance of an observable effect.

In studies carried out in Africa and Asia in the 1990s on the role of aflatoxin in liver carcinogenesis, biomarker methodology greatly improved understanding of the disease's aetiology and human-exposure sources. The five-year ECNIS NoE will develop and validate biomarkers and bioindicators for use as short cuts in epidemiological studies on the modulation of cancer risk by diet, and the influence of genetic variation on cellular, tissue and organism susceptibility to carcinogens. These studies will provide support for the development of functional foods that protect against DNA damage and cancer.


ECNIS will study populations from different European regions and climates, pollution levels and dietary habits, allowing for assessment of exposure-response relationships over a wide range of environmental scenarios. An important objective is to optimise use of the large number of human tissue-sample banks which exist in the Community. The project aims to develop and standardise procedures for cancer risk assessment, while identifying significant data gaps and providing directions for future development. Another goal is to use biomarker data to refine and validate pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic models and their potential application in risk-assessment protocols.

Driven by a high degree of specialisation, there has been insufficient interaction between epidemiologists, molecular geneticists, biochemists and molecular biologists. The ECNIS network will promote high-quality research by making use of its partners' multidisciplinary expertise and infrastructure, as well as providing the opportunity to conduct molecular epidemiology research on a Europe-wide scale. Its work programme will include scientific meetings, exchange of researchers and shared laboratory facilities, as well as joint training activities. This, in turn, will lower the cost of research and improve funding opportunities, while providing unbiased expertise and raising the level of general knowledge about cancer risk.

List of Partners

  • EPIMOL Centre, Nofer Institute for Occupational Health (Poland)
  • Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Finland)
  • German Cancer Research Center (Germany)
  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Karolinska Institute (Sweden)
  • Institute for Scientific Interchange Foundation (Italy)
  • The National Hellenic Research Foundation (Greece)
  • University of Leicester (UK)
  • József Fodor National Center for Public Health (Hungary)
  • Nicolaus Copernicus University, Collegium Medicum in Bydgoszcz (Poland)
  • Istituto di Ricerca Genetica dell´Ospedale Policlinico (Italy)
  • University of Mainz (Germany)
  • Lund University (Sweden)
  • Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium)
  • Institute of Cancer Research (UK)
  • University of Maastricht (The Netherlands)
  • Biochemical Institute for Environmental Carcinogens, Prof. Dr Gernot Grimmer Foundation (Germany)
  • Catalan Institute of Oncology (Spain)
  • Utrecht University, Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (The Netherlands)
  • University of Dundee, Biomedical Research Centre (UK)
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (France)
  • NETIX Skrzypczynski, Krzysztofowicz Sp. J. (Poland)
  • Free University of Brussels (Belgium)
  • Leocordia AB (Sweden)
  • Imperial College, London (UK)
Full title:
Environmental cancer risk, nutrition and individual susceptibility
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Konrad Rydzynski, Nofer Institute,
EC Scientific Officer:
Ebba Barany and Maria Spulber,,
EU contribution:
€ 11M
Network of Excellence

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top