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Industrial Hygienist and Exposure Assessment Expert Mustafa Dosemeci, Mourned by DCEG

, by DCEG Staff

Mustafa Dosemeci

Dr. Mustafa Dosemeci, retired senior investigator in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, died October 10, 2016, after a long illness. Over the course of 22 years in the Division, Dr. Dosemeci integrated his training in chemistry and industrial hygiene to develop exposure assessment methodologies for a wide range of epidemiological studies of chemical and physical hazards. Some of his major contributions included assessments of potential carcinogens such as benzene, silica, and diesel exhaust.

Dr. Dosemeci possessed an irrepressible enthusiasm and ‘can-do’ approach to research challenges. This is perhaps best exemplified by his optimism, recalled by former co-worker Richard Hayes, Ph.D.: “He was absolutely committed to characterizing the level of benzene exposure experienced over several decades for over 70,000 workers in 12 cities in China.” The results of this Herculean effort led to the publication of over 30 highly influential papers that have been cited more than 2,000 times, and ultimately a rule change by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishing a limit for benzene content in gasoline and adopting controls on passenger vehicles and portable fuel containers. This is one example of his many accomplishments, always with the greatest enthusiasm and pleasure in his work.  

He led a seminal study of 68,000 workers exposed to silica in China, cited as a key reference for the International Agency for Cancer Research classification of silica as a human carcinogen. He was the “founding” exposure assessment expert on a study of diesel-exposed miners that provided the key piece of evidence that led to diesel exhaust being classified as a “known human carcinogen”.

He developed new methods and approaches for assessing exposures, which was particularly innovative in the Agricultural Health Study; he accounted for pesticide type, application method, protective equipment, personal work and hygiene practices, and other factors. In other work, he used simulation approaches to develop specific recommendations for industrial hygienists to reduce the effects of misclassification on risk estimates and also noted how in some circumstances misclassification could produce results that were biased away from the null.

But Dr. Dosemeci was not content to “stay on the exposure side of the ledger,” recalled former Deputy Director Shelia Zahm, Sc.D. “He was passionate about getting involved in the epidemiologic ‘side’ of studies, too.” For example, Dr. Dosemeci was responsible for initiating a major collaborative effort to study bladder cancer in Spain, piggy-backing onto an existing study of bladder cancer survival. In doing so, he launched a collaboration that has led to a new understanding of the relationships between exposures, such as chlorination and other disinfection byproducts, and genetics in the etiology of bladder cancer.

He was passionate in his pursuit and was well known for the attention he afforded the details of a study or analysis. He would light up as he discussed topics that were intensely exciting to him, such as job exposure matrices and probabilistic approaches for quantifying exposure levels.  

Martha Linet, M.D., recalled his love of teaching. “He prepared glorious flow charts to illustrate the innumerable steps in a given process, from the big picture to the day-to-day execution of each step. His patience was endless, and he would spend hours developing alternative ways to convey his ideas when his ‘students’ failed to grasp the content of his work.” He was also a gracious host to “orphaned” fellows celebrating holidays far from home.

Nathaniel Rothman, M.D., noted that “Dr. Dosemeci had a special joie de vivre”. He was warm and vibrant, enjoyed learning about other cultures, and made lasting personal as well as professional connections both at the NCI, and in the many corners of the globe where he conducted research. He will be missed by many across the NCI and his many collaborators all over the world.

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