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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention
 

Steven Moore Awarded Scientific Tenure by the NIH

, by by Julian Cantella, M.A.

In September 2022, Steven C. Moore, Ph.D., M.P.H., was awarded scientific tenure by the NIH and promoted to senior investigator in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch. Dr. Moore is an internationally recognized expert on the role of physical activity in cancer etiology and the uses of metabolomics in epidemiologic research. His findings have contributed to evidence-based public health recommendations for physical activity and cancer prevention.

Dr. Moore has led landmark collaborative research on how physical activity, obesity, and diet affect cancer risk and premature mortality. In a study of about 1.5 million participants pooled from 12 prospective cohorts, he showed that aerobic physical activity is associated with lower risk of 13 different types of cancer. For at least five types, he observed further benefits among individuals who reported exercising at levels higher than the recommended minimum. Another study demonstrated that weightlifting can be associated with reduced risk of colon cancer, independent of aerobic exercise.

The implications of Dr. Moore’s research go beyond cancer to general public health guidelines. In an analysis of 650,000 participants, his team found that 10 minutes of daily physical activity added nearly two years of life expectancy (from age 40) compared with no activity. His work has been central to the U.S. recommendation that more activity is better. He plans to continue researching the relationships between physical activities like strength training and both cancer and all-cause mortality.

Another facet of his portfolio involves the use of metabolomics to investigate the interplay between physical activity, obesity, and diet as they relate to health outcomes. This approach enables researchers to identify and quantify thousands of small metabolites in blood, urine, and other biospecimens. Dr. Moore has established a methodological foundation for metabolomics in cancer epidemiology, and his efforts have yielded groundbreaking findings. 

In multiple studies, he showed that low levels of physical activity and a high body mass index were associated with a broad array of blood metabolites linked to cancer. He has also identified novel nutritional biomarkers that can complement or substitute for self-reported measures of food and beverage intake. In a controlled feeding trial, he confirmed that many metabolites were powerfully correlated with intake of foods like coffee, citrus, and vitamin supplements. Further examination revealed that levels of metabolites related to consumption of butter, desserts, and alcohol were associated with increased risk of breast cancer.

During the early development of the metabolomics field, Dr. Moore made important contributions to scale technology to population-based research. Most significantly, he was the founding chair of the Consortium of Metabolomics Studies (COMETS), the world’s largest metabolomics consortium. COMETS includes 70 cohorts worldwide with more than 136,000 participants. It is continually recruiting new partners from the United States and overseas, including large cohorts (like PLCO, the Multiethnic Cohort, Southern Community Cohort) and small cohorts (like Project Viva, Emory African American Maternal-Child Cohort, Mano a Mano). Dr. Moore co-created COMETS Analytics and COMETS Explorer, publicly accessible apps that facilitate analyses and display descriptive statistics for the 45 cohorts harmonized to date. Expanding on this work, he plans to use COMETS for projects like developing a human metabolite map, which could more accurately identify missing metabolites.