In his native city of Campania, Italy, Dr. Antonio Giordano shops at local markets for fresh ingredients to make caprese, an Italian dish, which he always pairs with a glass of wine.
“You cook a bit of olive oil, onion and tomato together, and then throw the pasta right in,” said Giordano, a biology professor. “It’s fresh, it’s healthy and it is the basis of an Italian diet.”
He added that Italians, because of their diet, rank as the healthiest group of people in the world, according to the 2017 Bloomberg Global Health Index.
Giordano is the founder and director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization, which researches cures for diseases like cancer. The College of Science and Technology hosts the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, a branch of SHRO.
Giordano, along with a team of scientists from the University of Siena in Italy and the National Cancer Institute of Naples, is exploring the Mediterranean diet -— which commonly includes plant-based foods, olive oil, nuts and fish — and why it is ideal for increasing health by researching specific foods of the diet, like tomatoes.
Through his blind study of nearly 50 types of tomato seeds, Giordano found that the genetic makeup of two types of tomatoes can help slow and stop the spreading of gastric, or stomach, cancer cells.
“The term, ‘We are what we eat,’ is true but we don’t actually understand the meaning of the cliche,” Giordano said. We go to a supermarket without truly knowing what is really healthy or what happens to us when we eat certain foods. By conducting this research, we are unveiling exactly what it is about certain tomatoes that makes them healthy.”
Giordano discovered that genetic characteristics of the San Marzano and Corbarino tomatoes help block molecules involved in cell division, slowing and sometimes stopping the spread of cancer cells.
“This means a lot for the field of medicine,” Giordano said. “It is proof that nutrition maintains a proper function of life. It illustrates the preventative steps a person should take with their diet at an early age to avoid certain diseases, like gastric cancer, later in life.”
But the tomatoes that Giordano and his team chose to use don’t come from just anywhere.
Nestled in the hills of Campania*, Italy, farmers grow San Marzano and Corbarino tomatoes. Their seeds grow well in the Southern Italian environment.
“I believe scientific work should relate to social impact,” Giordano said. “We have conducted the research and made the discovery, the next step is figuring out how to grow the tomatoes here so that more people can implement them in their diet.”
Giordano is currently studying the growth of San Marzano and Corbarino tomatoes and the Italian environments where they grow. He wants to reproduce the tomatoes on farms just outside of Philadelphia, as well as in Florida and California.
He said he and his team will also be working with top American and Italian chefs to determine the ideal way to prepare and cook the tomatoes while still maintaining its health benefits.
Giordano added that he will later apply similar research strategies to other foods like pasta.
“Out of all the research I have done, this one is generating the most excitement and it has lots of potential,” Giordano said. “Our end goal is to create the ideal meal for each and every person to benefit from.”
*This story has been updated to reflect additional information from Dr. Antonio Giordano.