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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Third Annual DCEG Fellows' Training Symposium

July 2011 - Linkage Newsletter

by Todd Gibson, Ph.D., and Shih-Wen (Wenny) Lin, Ph.D., M.P.H.

March 2011 marked the third annual DCEG Fellows' Training Symposium, titled Shaping Future Research: Provocative Questions in Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. The event was sponsored by DCEG's Office of Education (OE) and organized by a DCEG fellows committee, including cochairs Todd M. Gibson, Ph.D., Radiation Epidemiology Branch (REB), and Shih-Wen (Wenny) Lin, Ph.D., M.P.H., Nutritional Epidemiology Branch (NEB), as well as Paula Hyland, Ph.D., M.P.H., Genetic Epidemiology Branch, Gabriel Lai, Ph.D. (NEB), Gila Neta, Ph.D., M.P.P. (REB), Christina Persson, Ph.D., Hormonal and Reproductive Epidemiology Branch, and Meredith Shiels, Ph.D., M.H.S., Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch, with support from Jackie Lavigne, Ph.D., M.P.H., Chief of OE, Kristin Kiser, M.H.A., M.S. (OE), and Tess Lee (OE). The aim of the symposium was to follow up on the "Provocative Questions" initiative of NCI Director Harold Varmus, M.D. More than 70 predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows, representing all of the DCEG units, participated in the event.

Photo of Margaret Spitz, John Groopman, and Jonathan Samet.Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, professor and Flora L. Thornton Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, began the symposium with the lecture "Cancer: A neglected global health problem." Dr. Samet spoke on opportunities for cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment in the context of global health and provided examples of provocative questions, ranging from the global and national (i.e., upstream) levels to the family and individual (i.e., downstream) levels.

In "Epidemiologic challenges: Confounding our future," Dr. Margaret Spitz of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and special advisor to DCEG, discussed provocative questions in molecular epidemiology, including the hereditary components of cancer and the biological basis of cancer susceptibility, the mechanisms that link energy balance and obesity to cancer, and the relationships between the human microbiome and cancer.

Dr. John Groopman, the Anna M. Baetjer Professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, discussed "Translating molecular sciences to public health prevention strategies." He encouraged fellows to take a long-term approach to thinking about cancer prevention and described examples of recent advances in cancer genomics and epigenomics, the exposome, and population studies that can inform the discovery and validation of biomarkers. The afternoon began with a spirited panel discussion in which all three speakers responded to a variety of questions that dealt with scientific opportunities and advice.

Two poster sessions featured the research projects of more than 40 fellows, while further discussions were held during lunch to enable fellows to generate and exchange their ideas for provocative questions in cancer epidemiology and genetics. In addition, two fellows gave oral presentations selected by the planning committee for scientific merit, originality, and innovation. Dr. Lai spoke on "The association between diabetes and cancer incidence and mortality in the NIH-AARP Study," while Stephanie Lamart, Ph.D. (REB), spoke on "Improvements in estimating radiation doses to adult patients treated with I-131." Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D., Division Director, concluded the symposium with a presentation titled "Scanning the horizon," in which he described the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the DCEG scientific staff.

All of the participants agreed that the day was a great experience during which they learned about the range of scientific projects carried out by fellows across the Division and heard about the tremendous variety of future opportunities in the field from leading scientists.