Skip to main content

Mary C. Playdon, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Languages spoken: English

Academic Information

Departments: Nutrition and Integrative Physiology - Assistant Professor, Population Health Sciences - Adjunct Assistant Professor

Divisions: Cancer Population Science

Academic Office Information

Research Interests

  • Natural History of a Disease
  • Molecular Systematics

Research Statement

Dr. Playdon's research focuses on the role of modifiable lifestyle factors like diet and obesity in the development of cancer and survival after cancer diagnosis. With her collaborators, she has done cutting-edge research on developing dietary biomarkers using metabolomics to improve dietary measurement, and understand the mechanisms underlying dietary relationships with disease. Her research program at the University of Utah is further characterizing promising dietary biomarkers, exploring metabolic phenotype in the development of female and other diet-related cancers like colorectal cancer, and applying nutritional metabolomics to studies of cancer survivorship, including cohort studies and dietary interventions.

Cancer patients, and the public, have a strong interest in what dietary factors might prevent cancer or improve survival after cancer diagnosis. Many questions remain, since dietary measurement is prone to errors that can make it difficult to detect diet-cancer signals. Dr. Playdon's recent work validating dietary biomarkers has uncovered several markers with potential to be considered 'gold standard' that could be used to improve the measurement of diet. She also uncovered the trove of information available by measuring metabolites from a small blood sample: what a person ate, how that food might have been processed and prepared, and how their metabolism has responded to diet. Since many large observational studies have thousands or tens of thousands of patient samples in storage, nutritional metabolomics could be conducted with immediate effect and applied to studies of diseases like cancer on a very large-scale. This has the potential to dramatically shift the landscape of nutritional research.

Many cancer survivors, particularly survivors of obesity-related cancers, are at high risk of developing comorbidities after cancer diagnosis, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Playdon is developing studies to explore the etiology of metabolic abnormalities and comorbidities among cancer patients using molecular epidemiology approaches. Furthermore, she is studying strategies to improve metabolic health among cancer patients including modifying dietary pattern, meal timing, and lifestyle interventions that include combinations of diet and physical activity.

Having counseled hundreds of women that are living with a diagnosis of cancer on diet and lifestyle change as a research dietitian continues to inspire Dr. Playdon's passion for making discoveries related to the role of nutrition in both preventing cancer, and prolonging life and improving the quality of life of cancer survivors.

Education History

Postdoctoral Fellowship National Cancer Institute
Metabolic Epidemiology, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics
Postdoctoral Fellow
Doctoral Training Yale School of Public Health
Chronic Disease Epidemiology
Graduate Training Yale School of Public Health
Graduate Training Queensland University of Technology
Public Health
Undergraduate Queensland University of Technology
Nutrition and Dietetics