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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Philip R. Taylor, M.D., Sc.D.

Senior Investigator

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Philip R. Taylor, M.D., Sc.D.

Philip R. Taylor, M.D., Sc.D.

Organization:National Cancer Institute
Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Genetic Epidemiology Branch
Address:NCI Shady Grove
Room 6E444


Dr. Taylor received his medical degree from the University of Iowa in 1973 and completed his residency in internal medicine at Vanderbilt University in 1976. He joined the Centers for Disease Control in 1976 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer and while there, completed a residency in preventive medicine. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees in epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health, and came to the NCI in 1983. He was chief of the Cancer Prevention Studies Branch from 1987 – 2004 before joining the Genetic Epidemiology Branch in 2005.

Dr. Taylor has a long-standing interest in developing cancer prevention strategies. His current research emphasizes (1) identifying germline variants of susceptibility to upper gastrointestinal (UGI) cancers through genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and family studies, (2) evaluating tissue alterations in UGI cancers and premalignancy, and (3) integrating germline and somatic data with functional genomics to understand etiology and identify biomarkers for early detection and prognosis.

Research Interests

Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Research

My current primary research interest is in the development of prevention strategies for cancers of the UGI tract, including esophageal and gastric cancers. My work has involved a variety of different research approaches, including the conduct of cancer prevention trials, early detection studies, etiologic studies, laboratory-based molecular research, and clinical nutrition studies.

Beginning with the Nutrition Intervention Trials (NIT) in over 32,000 residents of Linxian, China, started in 1985, my research on esophageal cancer has evolved through the years into an integrated, highly collaborative, interdisciplinary, international research program that includes studies of etiology, genetics, early detection, and intervention, all emphasizing prevention. My research is conducted primarily as part of the three UGI cancer projects described here, but is interconnected with a number of other studies directed by others within our UGI Cancer Research Group.

The original goal of the Nutrition Intervention Trials (NIT) in Linxian, China was to evaluate the role of nutrition in the etiology and prevention of UGI cancers. With the conclusion of the intervention phase in 1991, and the determination that the micronutrient combination of selenium/vitamin E/ß-carotene reduced total mortality, total cancer mortality, and gastric cancer mortality, objectives now include:

  • Determination of post-trial effects of the interventions;
  • Evaluation of etiologic hypotheses, including nutrition, carcinogens, infections, genetics, and other exposures;
  • Study of natural history; and
  • Identification of genetic variants that predispose to UGI cancers.

In collaboration with the Cancer Institute of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, we continue to follow trial participants to ascertain endpoints, and conduct nested case-control and case-cohort studies using baseline serum. In 1999 and 2000 we collected additional blood samples to permit expanded DNA and biochemical analyses.

The Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Genetic Studies were started in 1995 to look for major susceptibility genes for UGI cancers and identify the genetic changes associated with their development. To accomplish this, we:

  • Identify somatic genetic alterations, including changes that might serve as early detection biomarkers; and
  • Examine germline genetic variants in relation to cancer to identify major risk (high penetrance, low prevalence) susceptibility genes, as well as moderate risk (low penetrance, high prevalence) susceptibility genes to enable development of risk stratification strategies and to better understand cancer biology.

This project was initiated to study esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCC), but also includes other UGI cancers (gastric cardia cancer and gastric non-cardia cancer). Following a pilot study in 1995, we initiated a collaboration with the Shanxi Cancer Hospital and Institute, Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China in 1996 to perform clinical and field studies, including a tumor/non-tumor study, an endoscopy study, a family study, and a case-control study. These studies have been the core of our UGI cancer GWAS studies in Asians.

The Barrett Esophagus Early Detection Study was initiated in July 2006, with the primary goal of identifying a practical blood-based biomarker to distinguish persons with Barrett esophagus (BE) from those without it. This BE case-control study is being conducted as a collaboration with investigators at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda among Barrett Esophagus Registry patients and non-BE patients endoscoped in the Gastroenterology Clinic.