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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Tribute to Elaine Ron

March 2011 - Linkage Newsletter

by Jennifer Loukissas, M.P.P.

Elaine Ron, Ph.D., a senior investigator in the Radiation Epidemiology Branch (REB), died of cancer on November 20, 2010, at her home in Bethesda, Maryland. She was 67.

Dr. Ron was renowned as one of the leading experts in the field of radiation epidemiology and in the causes of thyroid cancer, and she was a great champion of women in science. Over the course of her career, she authored more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications and mentored researchers from around the world. She leaves as a legacy numerous junior investigators who were inspired by her example.

Throughout her career, Dr. Ron conducted groundbreaking research. In her earliest work in Israel, for example, she identified the long-term cancer effects of radiation treatment for tinea capitis, a fungal infection of the scalp.

Dr. Ron joined NCI in 1986 and served as Chief of REB from 1997 to 2002. She served on numerous international committees, including the International Commission on Radiation Protection, the Scientific Council of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Public Health Committee of the American Thyroid Association.

"Elaine contributed enormously to our understanding of the cancer risks associated with radiation," reflected Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D., DCEG Director. "Her interests included studies of the atomic bomb survivors in Japan, residents of the former Soviet Union exposed to the radioactive compounds from the Chernobyl accident, and patients exposed to diagnostic and therapeutic radiation. In addition to addressing the biological mechanisms of disease, Dr. Ron was keenly focused on the public health and policy implications of her research."

Dr. Ron's scientific achievements included a landmark study of cancer risks among patients treated with radioactive iodine for hyperthyroidism and the first international effort to pool epidemiologic data on thyroid cancer. To address growing public concerns about the risks of diagnostic radiation, she recently launched a major investigation into the potential adverse effects of CT screening among children and young adults.

Dr. Ron was viewed as a role model based on her personal qualities as well as her scientific achievements and mentoring. As noted by Shelia Hoar Zahm, Sc.D., Deputy Director of DCEG, "Elaine was passionate about fighting injustice. Whether it was promoting equity for women scientists at work, preventing cruelty to animals, or advancing human rights around the globe, she refused to accept the status quo."