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Unhee Lim, PhD

Unhee Lim, PhD
  • Associate Professor
    Cancer Epidemiology Program
    University of Hawaii Cancer Center


  • PhD, Human Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology, MS, Human Nutrition
    Cornell University
  • Registered Dietitian
    Yale University Hospital
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics
    National Cancer Institute

Research Focus

Dr. Lim's research involves the epidemiologic investigation of nutrition and related lifestyle risk factors in cancer etiology. In particular, she is interested in identifying the nutritional determinants of key epigenetic alterations involved in carcinogenesis. She is also interested in understanding the carcinogenic effects of obesity, with a focus on ethnic variation.

Aberrant DNA methylation is an established hallmark of malignancies from the early stage of carcinogenesis to malignant transformation. Methyl donor nutrients and genetic variants in their metabolizing enzymes may be important determinants of DNA methylation. Dr. Lim and colleagues have observed an association between dietary consumption of methyl donor vitamins (folate, vitamins B6 and B12) and the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma [Lim et al. Am J Epidemiol 2005; Lim et al., Cancer Epidemiol Biomarker Prev 2006], with potential genetic modifications [Lim et al., Blood 2007]. Similarly, higher levels of global methylation in leukocyte DNA were associated with substantially low prevalence of colorectal adenoma among asymptomatic middle-aged women [Lim et al., Gastroenterology 2008]. These findings suggest that adequate nutritional status of methyl donor vitamins may have a protective role against several cancers and that such effects may in part be mediated by adequate DNA methylation.

In a recent investigation using large prospective data [Lim et al., Am J Epidemiol 2007], it was observed that severe obesity, indicated by body mass index over 35, was associated with significantly elevated risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma among older adults. One of the proposed mechanisms for such an association is through chronic inflammation that is exacerbated in obese individuals. Their observation of inverse associations of incident lymphoma with moderate alcohol intake [Lim et al., Am J Epidemiol 2007] and with higher circulating levels of high-density lipoprotein [Lim et al., Cancer Res 2007], both of which have anti-inflammatory properties, support the inflammation hypothesis. Dr. Lim and colleagues are investigating markers of inflammation and other postulated mechanisms, such as insulin resistance and sex hormones, to examine whether marker profiles could help distinguish the diverse adiposity phenotypes observed in the Multiethnic Cohort [Lim et al., Nutrition & Diabetes 2011]..

Selected Publications

  • Yonemori KM, Lim U, Koga KR, Wilkens LR, Au D, Boushey CJ, Le Marchand L, Kolonel LN, Murphy SP.Dietary choline and betaine intakes vary in an adult multiethnic population. J Nut 2013;143(6):894-9. PMC3652885.
  • Lim U, Turner SD, Franke AA, Cooney RV, Wilkens LR, Ernst T, Albright CL, Novotny R, Chang L, Kolonel LN, Murphy SP, Le Marchand L. Predicting total, abdominal, visceral and hepatic adiposity with circulating biomarkers in Caucasian and Japanese American women. PLoS ONE 2012;7(8):e43502.
  • Lim U, Wilkens LR, Monroe KR, Caberto C, Tiirikainen M, Cheng I, Park SL, Stram DO, Henderson BE, Kolonel LN, Haiman CA, Le Marchand L. Susceptibility variants for obesity and colorectal cancer risk: the Multiethnic Cohort and PAGE Studies. Int J Cancer 2012; 131(6):E1038-43.
  • Lim U, T Ernst, SD Buchthal, M Latch, CL Albright, LR Wilkens, LN Kolonel, SP Murphy, L Chang, R Novotny, L Le Marchand. Asian women have greater abdominal and visceral adiposity than Caucasian women with similar body mass index. Nutrition & Diabetes 2011 Epub.
  • Lim U, A Flood, SW Choi, D Albanes, AJ Cross, A Schatzkin, R Sinha, HA Katki, B Cash, P Schoenfeld, R Stolzenberg-Solomon. Genomic methylation of leukocyte DNA in relation to colorectal adenoma among asymptomatic women. Gastroenterology 2008;134:47-55.

Publication list via PubMed

Active Grants

  • Unhee Lim, Project Leader (L Le Marchand, Principal Investigator) NCI P01 CA168530 "Project 1: Associations of Nutritional and Biochemical (Exposome) Predictors of Body Fat Amount and Distribution with Cancer Risk." September 2012 - August 2017.
  • Unhee Lim, Principal Investigator V Foundation (V Scholar Award) "Investigating Global Leukocyte DNA Methylation for Predicting Colorectal Cancer Risk in a Multiethnic Population." November 2012 - October 2014.