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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.

Deputy Branch Chief
Senior Investigator

NCI Shady Grove | Room 6E-448


Dr. Wentzensen received an M.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 2000. He trained in general surgery and conducted research in surgical oncology in the Department of Surgery, University of Heidelberg. Dr. Wentzensen earned his Ph.D. in Applied Tumor Biology at the Institute of Pathology, University of Heidelberg. During this time, he conducted research in molecular biology, molecular pathology, and molecular epidemiology of cervical cancer. He built a research group focusing on cervical cancer biomarker discovery and validation and established a diagnostic laboratory for cervical cancer screening. In 2007 he earned a Master of Science in Epidemiology at the University of Mainz. Dr. Wentzensen joined DCEG as a visiting fellow in 2007, became a tenure-track investigator in 2009, and was awarded scientific tenure by the NIH and appointed senior investigator in 2013. In 2015 he joined the Clinical Genetics Branch as Deputy Chief and head of the Clinical Epidemiology Unit within the branch.

Dr. Wentzensen’s research is focused on etiologic heterogeneity and biomarker discovery of gynecological cancers, mainly cervical and ovarian. His research has been highly recognized internationally. His medical doctorate thesis on human papillomavirus integration was awarded summa cum laude. He has received multiple research awards from the University of Heidelberg and several awards for presentations at international scientific meetings, including an AACR scholar-in-training award. Since joining DCEG, Dr. Wentzensen has won two intramural research awards, an NCI Director’s Intramural Innovation Award, an NIH Award of Merit and a Research Highlights Award. He was selected as an expert for the Cochrane Gynaecological Cancer Review Group (Section ‘Prevention of Cervical Cancer’) and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists Future Strategies of Cervical Cancer Prevention Meeting, and he serves on a standing U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel for Microbiology Devices.

Dr. Wentzensen has played an important role in recent updates of cervical cancer screening and management guidelines, including the Practice Improvement of Cervical Screening and Management effort sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the Society of Lower Genital Tract Disorders (ASCCP), and the American Society for Clinical Pathology, as well as the ASCCP cervical cancer management guidelines effort. For his contributions to these efforts, he was awarded a Meritorious Scientific Award at the biennial ASCCP meeting in 2014. In 2018, he received the ASCCP Distinguished Scientific Award, the Society's highest honor. Dr. Wentzensen serves as a senior editor for Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Research Interests

I am leading a research program focused on the molecular etiology and prevention of cervical and other human papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers, and ovarian and endometrial cancers. I also have special expertise in the p16/Rb pathway, human papillomavirus biology, gene methylation, and molecular profiling of cancers. A strong focus of my work is on moving etiologic discoveries into clinical or public health practice. Several of my studies have the potential to directly affect public health decisions and clinical practice.

I am currently working on several established DCEG studies, and have initiated new field efforts to analyze the etiology of cervical precancers and to improve colposcopy-biopsy protocols. I am also leading consortial efforts to study the etiologic heterogeneity of ovarian cancers.

Cervical Cancer and Other HPV-related Cancers

In the Study to Understand Cervical Cancer Early Endpoints and Determinants, my goal is to comprehensively assess biomarkers of risk for progressive cervical neoplasia, and thus develop a new set of biomarkers that can distinguish those at highest risk of cervical cancer from those with benign infection. In the Biopsy Study to Improve Detection of Cervical Precancer, my goals are to study cervical disease on the lesion level, to optimize criteria for biopsy placement, and to analyze the incremental benefit of taking multiple biopsies. In the Cervical Cancer Screening Among HIV-Infected Women in India and the Anal Precancer and Cancer in HIV-Positive Men (Anal Cancer Screening Study), I am focusing on evaluation of biomarkers and colposcopy/anoscopy to improve detection of HPV-related diseases in HIV-infected populations.

Based on my long experience with cellular and humoral immune responses against tumor-associated and viral antigens, I am evaluating novel serologic assays to detect HPV antibodies as markers of exposure and protection together with other investigators in HREB and the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch (IIB) in several DCEG-based studies (Costa Rica Natural History Cohort, Costa Rica Vaccine Trial, ASCUS-LSIL-Triage-Study).

Ovarian Cancer

The etiology of ovarian cancer is complex and poorly understood, in part because risk factor associations may differ by histological type, grade and other factors. My focus on ovarian cancers is to understand etiologic heterogeneity by studying risk factor associations and circulating biomarkers in histologic subtypes. I am particularly interested in the role of inflammation in ovarian carcinogenesis, since it could lead to new interventions to prevent or control inflammation.

Together with extramural researchers, I have established the Ovarian Cancer Cohort Consortium (OC3) to allow well-powered studies of risk factors and biomarkers by histologic subtypes. I am conducting tissue based profiling studies in the Ovarian Cancer Case-Control Study in Poland to help improve the understanding of etiologic heterogeneity and to identify cells of origin of ovarian cancers based on molecular profiles of normal reproductive tissues.

In collaboration with investigators in the Biostatistics Branch, we are extending our analyses to cases from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Residual Tissue Repository (SEER RTR). I am analyzing several a priori markers and pathways, such as mismatch repair deficiency, p53 and p16/Rb alterations, and telomere length alterations. We seek to identify markers that can be integrated with standardized histological typing and grading to improve the classification of ovarian tumors for epidemiologic studies. We also want to identify markers for early detection that can be translated into clinical or screening applications. In collaboration with investigators in the Clinical Genetics Branch and with outside clinical partners, we are evaluating novel techniques for sampling of endometrial and ovarian epithelium, as well as fallopian tubes.

Endometrial Cancer

My main focus on endometrial cancer research is to characterize cancer precursors and to develop early detection biomarkers. In a study to evaluate biomarkers in samples collected using endometrial brushings and intravaginal tampons, my colleagues and I identified several candidate markers that showed good performance to identify women with endometrial cancer. I am now conducting a large prospective study to evaluate methylation and mutation markers to identify endometrial cancers and cancer precursors.

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