Researcher Receives USDA Grant to Study Benefits of Soybean Foods for Pregnant Women and Their Babies

Asian woman grocery shopping with a baby
The goal of a new MU School of Medicine study is to determine if a soy diet can protect unborn babies from breast cancer and obesity later in life.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher Yuanyan (Rose) Li, MD, PhD, a $500,000 grant to study how soybean foods consumed by pregnant mothers can affect the long-term health of their unborn children.

Yuanyan (Rose) Li, MD, PhD
Yuanyan (Rose) Li, MD, PhD

Previous studies have linked exposure to certain nutrition or diets while in the womb to later-life obesity and cancer. Li, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, women’s health and surgery will focus on mice to determine the effects of a pregnant mother’s soy diet on her offspring’s health outcomes, gut microbiome and potential gene modifications that protect offspring against breast cancer or obesity later in life.

“Breast cancer and obesity-related diseases affect hundreds of thousands of people across the globe,” Li said. “If we can find natural soy products for a mother’s diet that will protect her child’s long-term health, this discovery will have global impact as a cost-effective way to prevent chronic diseases before they have an opportunity to arise.”

Li said her research will also facilitate a better understanding of the association between obesity and breast cancer that will help establish early preventative strategies targeting those who are at an increased risk of developing obesity and aggressive forms of breast cancer.

The USDA grant began in January and runs through the end of 2025.