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New cancer research grant milks the benefits

New cancer research grant milks the benefits

Is drinking plenty of milk as a child the key to preventing bowel cancer in later life?

Associate Professor Brian Cox thinks so. He is investigating the link between New Zealand’s long-since-abandoned school milk programme and the reduced risk of developing bowel cancer among those who drank the milk.

New Zealand has the highest rate of bowel cancer in the world. However, work by Professor Cox of the Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Otago has shown that the risk of developing bowel cancer is significantly reduced in men and women born in New Zealand between 1941 and 1956.

Professor Cox is a medical epidemiologist, a doctor who studies the health of whole populations, and finding out why this group has a lower incidence of bowel cancer could help find ways to prevent the disease. Professor Cox believes the answer may lie in the fact that this group of people attended school during the period where all school children aged 7-12 years received a free half pint of milk each school day (from 1937 to 1967).

This hypothesis is based on the observation that supplementing the diet with calcium is known to reduce the occurrence of certain types of bowel cancer, and the free milk would have provided about 75% of the daily calcium requirement for many children of the time.

Having made the initial link, Professor Cox and Dr Mary Jane Sneyd now plan to investigate further with the help of a research grant from the Genesis Oncology Trust. They will survey 1000 New Zealanders aged 25 to 69 years, some with bowel cancer and some without. Using questionnaires, all participants will be asked about their recollections of school milk consumption, and other aspects of their diet.

Professor Cox said, “Identification of milk consumption in youth as a protective factor for bowel cancer would allow a targeted approach during the most important time of life for the prevention of this cancer. It would also benefit the dairy industry, potentially increasing dairy exports with resulting benefits to society and the economy. It is also possible that a new risk factor for bowel cancer may be identified that could be targeted in the prevention and treatment of this devastating disease”.

The Genesis Oncology Trust grant for Professor Cox is one of 23 grants in a total allocation of $553,000 made by the Trust this summer. The grants were awarded to a range of doctors, nurse specialists and cancer researchers throughout New Zealand.

Now one of the leading funders of cancer research, the Genesis Oncology Trust provides grants to support New Zealand-based initiatives that will lead to improvements in prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer and improvements in the palliative care of patients.

The Chairman of the Genesis Oncology Trust, Murray Jackson, said the initiative to invite Genesis Energy customers to contribute to Trust’s investment capital had been “successful well beyond our expectations”.

More than 50,000 Genesis Energy customers now donate one or two dollars every month via their energy invoices. This regular income stream, plus contributions from Genesis Energy, had helped the Trust’s invested capital grow to more than $8 million.

A full list of recent grant recipients and their projects can be found at


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