Meet Dr. Iñigo San-Millán
Dr. Iñigo San-Millán is a researcher at the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has also worked over the past 26 years with professional teams and elite athletes worldwide across many sports, including soccer, cycling, football, basketball, track and field, rowing, triathlon, swimming, and Olympics. He is a pioneer in developing new methodologies for monitoring athletes at the metabolic and physiological level. Since the end of 2018, he has served as Tadej’s Pogačar’s personal physiologist and coach during the winning of back-to-back Tour de Frances. Currently, he is also the Director of Performance for Team UAE Emirates cycling.
Dr. Iñigo San-Millán is a world-recognized leader in the research area of cancer metabolism. His research studying the metabolism of elite athletes and cancer patients with colleague Dr. George Brooks, has revealed imperfections in cellular processes that can lead to cancer. Specifically, the study of elite athletes and their metabolism has allowed a better understanding of the mode of action of cancer at the cellular level by comparing perfectly functioning mitochondria in these top athletes versus imperfect functioning in other people. “Endurance athletes have mitochondria that are working perfectly while in patients with tumors, the mitochondria malfunction,” explains San-Millán. Without extensive work with athletes in exercise metabolism, it would have been impossible for San-Millán and Brooks to discover and report on that the dysregulation of cancer cells could be due to a mitochondrial “injury” by cancer cells.
Drs. San-Millán and Brooks have continued to work on their hypothesis and in 2019 they discovered that lactate is an oncometabolite, metabolites whose quantity are elevated in tumors compared with normal cells, and capable of controlling the expression of the most important genes involved in a type of breast cancer. According to their research, dysregulated lactate (not the same one generated during exercise) is a key element in breast cancer formation and tumor progression. Discovering this, San-Millán’s group at the University of Colorado is focusing on targeting cancer metabolism and different metabolic pathways to stop cancer growth and proliferation, while also developing novel diagnostics and therapeutics targeting cancer metabolism including exercise oncology. For example, exercise has been found to be one of the most effective means to improve health for women diagnosed with breast cancer and even reduce risk of recurrence after recovery. However, more research needs to be done on the most effective exercise therapies and also educating doctors and patients. Dr. San-Millán believes neglected research in the area of cancer metabolism can lead to a breakthrough in curing most cancers, since most cancers share the characteristics of metabolism, as well as discovering targeted therapeutics to increase survival of people who already have cancer.
The passing of Urška Žigart’s mother, Tadej’s fiance, after a long battle with breast cancer was the impetus for Dr. San-Millán and Tadej to found the cancer research foundation to promote and fund badly-needed research in the area of cancer metabolism.
To learn more about the Tadej Pogačar Cancer Research Foundation or to donate directly: https://pogacar.org/