New dissertation will increase knowledge about vitamin D receptors in health and disease

On April 7, Maria Araceli Diaz Cruz defended her dissertation at the School of Health and Welfare, Jönköping University, with the dissertation "Exploring vitamin D and steroid hormone receptors - from healthy elderly to prostate cancer cells".

Maria Araceli Diaz Cruz

The dissertation aims to increase knowledge about vitamin D receptors in health and disease, and for that, it studies these receptors in healthy elderly individuals from Southwest Sweden and in prostate cancer cells.

Investigating healthy elderly people helped interpret the regulation of these receptors in a complex system: the human being, where other factors such as age, mental health, genetic background, and lifestyle interplay. The study of prostate cancer cells increased the understanding of the molecular and functional mechanisms behind the regulation of the vitamin D receptors.

“The increase in knowledge of the impact of these receptors, for example, the response to vitamin D supplementation or connected to prostate cancer prognosis, may, in the last term, benefit the elderly population, which is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and developing chronic diseases such as prostate cancer,” says Maria Araceli Diaz Cruz.

The genetic background together with environmental factors and lifestyle are key contributors to the health of an individual. Genetic background is inherited and irreversible unless mutations occur. However, lifestyle habits, i.e., diet, stress, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption, are modifiable factors that contribute to health or disease by affecting methylation of DNA, which regulates transcription of genes.

One of the most relevant lifestyle habits for health is maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in the body as vitamin D promotes calcium and phosphate absorption, supports the nervous and immune system function, and protects bone and muscle structure. Extreme low levels of vitamin D, vitamin D deficiency, has become a global public health concern, especially in the elderly population. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to several health problems such as bone fracture, decreased muscle strength, cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, depression, and breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

The thesis highlighted the importance of a lifestyle including vitamin D supplementation that promotes healthy genomic changes, for example, the methylation of cancer genes - meaning the inactivation of these genes.

“The most important benefit is that we identified candidate markers in the putative receptor of vitamin D, PDIA3, associated with vitamin D supplementation and prostate cancer progression in this thesis. This investigation leads to future studies where these markers could be verified as biomarkers in samples, such as prostate cancer patients, or in association with measurements of vitamin D levels in the bloodstream,” says Maria Araceli Diaz Cruz.

Maria Araceli Diaz Cruz comes from Spain, where she did her background studies in Biology. Since she moved to Sweden, she is specialized in molecular biology and biomedicine, and focuses her research on the antitumoral effects of vitamin D.

Opponent was Johan Staaf, associate professor, Lund University

Read the dissertation here