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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Aaron Blair, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Scientist Emeritus

Aaron Blair, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Aaron Blair, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Organization:National Cancer Institute
Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch
E-mail:blaira@mail.nih.gov

Biography

Dr. Blair received a Ph.D. in genetics from North Carolina State University and an M.P.H. in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina. He joined the NCI as a staff fellow in 1976, and was appointed to head the Occupational Studies Section in 1978. He was appointed Chief of the group when it became a branch in 1996. At NIH, he received the NIH Director's Award, PHS Special Recognition Award, NIH Merit Award, the DHHS Quality of Work Life Award, and the NIH Director's Award for the Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill Study. Other awards include the University of North Carolina H.A. Tyroler Distinguished Alumni Award, John Goldsmith Award for Outstanding Contributions to Environmental Epidemiology from the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, the Harriet Barr Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Public Health Alumnus Association of the University of North Carolina, NIOSH Alice Hamilton Award for Excellence in Occupational Safety and Health, Kansas Wesleyan University Alumni Achievement Award, EPICOH Award for Outstanding Contributions to Occupational Epidemiology, and APHA Epidemiology Section Wade Hampton Frost Annual Lectureship Award. He has served on numerous review groups for IARC, EPA, and other agencies, organizations, and institutions.

Dr. Blair currently serves as an advisor on the Chlordecone Scientific Committee (Institute National du Cancer, France), Pesticide Advisory Committee (Carex Canada), and Independent Advisory Board for Exposure Assessment (Institute of Occupational Medicine, Scotland). He has authored/coauthored more than 500 papers on occupational and environmental causes of cancer, other diseases, and epidemiologic methodology.

Research Interests

Dr. Blair’s research focuses on evaluating cancer and other disease risks associated with agricultural exposures, chemicals in the workplace and the general environment, and methodologic issues in occupational epidemiology.

Pesticides

Studies of pesticides have been a major focus throughout Dr. Blair's career. Pesticides are widely used chemicals, specifically designed to have toxic effects to some species. A number are carcinogenic in laboratory animals. The toxic nature of these agents raises questions about their possible impact on human health, although not specifically designed for this purpose. Dr. Blair’s early studies focused on farmers because they have heavier and more frequent exposures to pesticides than the general population and because they are able to describe their pesticide usage. Despite an overall lower mortality than the general population, farmers have excess cancers of the lip, stomach, brain, prostate, skin, and the lymphatic and hematopoietic system, as well as some nonmalignant chronic diseases. Ongoing studies in agriculture are designed to identify risk factors that account for these excesses.

Dr. Blair’s early mortality studies of agricultural populations, death certificate case-control studies, and cancer incidence case-control studies of lymphatic and hematopoietic indicated that pesticide exposures were likely to contribute to the development of cancer. Previous biomarker studies found urinary levels of 2,4 D resulted in increased lymphocyte replication levels were greater after exposure than before. This body of work provided much of the background for the launch of the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a major prospective investigation of farmers and their families in 1992. Since its initiation, the AHS has provided, and continues to provide, critical new information on the role of pesticides and other agricultural exposures in the development of cancer and diseases of the respiratory, neurologic, and reproductive systems, as well as other outcomes and conditions. Dr. Blair continues to participate in the AHS as a member of the Executive Committee, Scientist Emeritus, and as a coauthor on selected papers. He is also a collaborator in the North American Pesticide Project that pools case-control studies of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers from the United States and Canada to evaluate the etiologic role of pesticides.