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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D.

Senior Investigator

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Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D.

Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D.

Organization:National Cancer Institute
Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Metabolic Epidemiology Branch
Address:NCI Shady Grove
Room 6E336


Dr. Sinha received a B.S. with honors and M.SC. in biochemistry from the University of Stirling in Scotland, and a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences from the University of Maryland. She began work at the NCI in the Laboratory of Cellular Carcinogenesis and Tumor Promotion in 1987, was selected as a Cancer Prevention Research Fellow in 1990, and later joined the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics in 1992. Dr. Sinha was promoted to senior investigator in 2001 and co-principal investigator of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. She served for many years as Deputy Chief of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch.

Dr. Sinha was awarded a fellowship from the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research in 2001 and 1997, Sigma Xi Distinguished Lectureship 2005; and in 2007 was invited to present at the prestigious 38th International Princess Takamatsu Symposium, Tokyo, Japan. She has received the NIH Award of Merit, Technology Transfer Award, DCEG Special Appreciation Award, and several performance awards. Dr. Sinha was one of the founding members of the steering committee of the Molecular Epidemiology Group of the American Association for Cancer Research from 1997-1998, and of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Group of the American Society of Nutritional Sciences from 1998-2000. She was a member of the working group for the IARC Monograph on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, (Vol. 92), and was a reviewer for the American Institute for Cancer Research/World Cancer Research Fund report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Prevention of Cancer (2007 and 1997 editions). As an expert in the field of nutritional epidemiology, Dr. Sinha regularly chairs international committees and sessions at national meetings, as well as organizes meetings, symposia, and workshops. She was the president of the 8th International Conference on Carcinogens and Mutagenic–substituted Aryl Compounds and edited a special issue of Mutation Research – Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms in 2002. She serves on the Editorial Board of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, and the journal of the Japanese Cancer Association, Cancer Science.

Research Interests

Diet and Cancer

Only a small number of dietary components are convincingly linked causally to cancer, even though diet is thought to be important in the etiology of human cancers. The goal of our research is to explain the complex role of diet in cancer etiology, using an interdisciplinary approach that integrates biological mechanisms with epidemiologic studies. An aim of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch is to improve dietary exposure assessment using questionnaires and novel biochemical measures to elucidate dietary exposures and biological mechanisms associated with cancer risk, including the role of genetic susceptibility. Dr. Sinha is particularly interested in examining the role of meat, poultry, and fish in relation to cancer risk. She also studies non-nutritive constituents of diet, e.g., carcinogens formed during the cooking process and chemopreventive properties of coffee.

Dietary Cohort in Asian Populations

Asia is undergoing marked changes in diet, lifestyle, and chronic disease patterns. Dietary characteristics unique to Asia may be of particular interest. In high-income societies, over one-third of cancers are believed to be attributable to potentially modifiable, lifestyle-related exposures, such as diet, physical activity, and obesity. However, the relationship between diet and cancer risk within Asians and particularly South Asians are largely unexplored, despite the startling prevalence of diet-related conditions that may affect cancer and chronic disease risk, such as insulin resistance and hyperlipidemia. Dr. Sinha has actively pursued two such initiatives: the creation of the Asian Cohort Consortium and the development of dietary studies in South Asian populations.

Role of Gut Microflora in Nutrition

There are many important developments that are ongoing in the basic sciences that can provide a window into studying possible mechanisms related to diet in cancer etiology. An area that is crucial to the study of diet and cancer is the involvement of the microbiome in the gastrointestinal system, e.g., production of acetaldehyde in the mouth, Helicobacter Pylori in the stomach, and N-nitroso compound production in the gastrointestinal tract. Even though the role of gut bacteria has been implicated in various cancers for decades, recent advances in measuring different species of bacteria is opening door for more informative dietary studies. However, there are many methodological questions that need to be addressed before studies of the microbiome can be incorporated into epidemiological studies. In conjunction with evaluating the microbiome, there is a need to develop functions assays and/or measure mRNA signals of relevant dietary factors.