Researcher interview – Solange Parra Soto

Researcher interview – Solange Parra Soto

Solange Parra Soto is a researcher in the team at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK. She is involved in three studies at this year’s ECO, two are on cancer, and one on a biomarker comparison between vegetarians and meat eaters (see separate newsletter articles for these).

Q: Welcome to ECO2021 Solange. It is a pity we cannot meet in Malaga (where this year’s congress was planned). How do you feel about online conferences compared to visiting in person?

A: I think is sad because nothing is comparable with a face-to-face experience, however, I believe ECO is a  wonderful opportunity for people from different parts of the world to meet online and share their research at one of the most important conferences in obesity.

Q: For delegates that don’t know you, please can you tell us where you are from (your name is not a traditional Glasgow name!), and a little about your background, and what made you first interested in obesity research?

A: I’m from Chile, but I moved to Glasgow in 2019 to do my PhD. I am a dietitian and got my master’s degree in health promotion. I have always been really keen to learn more about obesity and its health consequences. For me, obesity and cancer are two of the biggest public health problems.

Q: How did you end up joining the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences in Glasgow?

A: In 2018 I was looking for a PhD opportunity, then I found on Twitter the research conducted by my current supervisor, Dr Carlos Celis, and I got in contact with him. He offered me a few research proposals, but I chose cancer risk and lifestyle factors, as I has been always interested on this topic. I managed to secure a highly competitive 4-years PhD scholarship from the Chilean government which has supported my studies at the University of Glasgow. 

Q: Your team has again produced some very interesting work for this year’s congress (see also separate newsletter articles). Let’s talk about the cancer studies first. As time goes on, more and more evidence linking obesity to cancer is emerging. What are some of the key findings of your cancer studies?

A: Well, the key take-home messages are:

Adiposity, regardless of the marker used to define obesity, was associated with an increased risk of 10 cancer sites.

Associations were mostly linear among all adiposity markers. This mean that the bigger or heavier you are the higher your risk of developing cancer.

Although we investigated the association of 6 adiposity markers with cancer risk, our findings suggest that all markers predict cancer risk at a similar extent, so therefore using a cheap and simple method, such as body mass index, could predict cancer as well as some expensive methods such as DXA or bioimpedance.

Q: Much has been said about the benefits of a vegetarian diet over the years. Another study presented by your team seems to settle this argument, showing that vegetarians have a much healthier biomarker profile than their meat-eating counterparts. Were these findings a surprise?

A: Not really, currently we know that meat and processed meat are strongly associated with a high risk of several cancers. In contrast, vegetarians have a higher consumption of vegetables, legumes and fruits, therefore, we hypothesised that they will have a better metabolic profile, however, we did not know whether metabolic differences within meat-eaters and vegetarians could be fully explained by their adiposity levels. Therefore, our study provides evidence that benefits were partially attributable to obesity but there was also an independent association.

Q: What are some of the sessions you would like to see at this year’s congress, or catch up on later?

A: There are many, the scientific program looks really interesting, but if a need to choose some I will pick up personalised nutrition, dietary patterns, Interventions for Obesity Prevention and obesity and cancer.

Thanks Solange, and enjoy ECO2021!