Posted on March 13, 2018
In March 2018, Melissa Bondy, Ph.D., M.S., Professor in the Department of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, spent two days at DCEG as a Visiting Scholar. Dr. Bondy is also Associate Director for Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences in the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Cancer Center, holds the Dan L Duncan Professorship, and is a McNair Scholar at Baylor. An expert in genetic susceptibility and heritability for brain and breast cancer, Dr. Bondy has an additional strong interest in health disparities.
During her visit, Dr. Bondy met with several investigators and fellows to discuss research and collaborations. She also participated in two roundtable discussions. The first, “Disparities and Cancer Epidemiology,” was hosted by senior investigator Sam Mbulaiteye, MBChB, M.Phil., M.Med., and postdoctoral fellow Tracy Layne, Ph.D., M.P.H. The second, led by senior investigators Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, Ph.D., and Sonja Berndt, Pharm.D., Ph.D., was titled “Post-GWAS”.
The highlight of the visit was her division-wide seminar, “Glioma – Insights from molecular epidemiology to functional validation of glioma genes.” For context, Dr. Bondy delved into the descriptive epidemiology of glioma, the most common malignant brain tumor. Nearly 24,000 new cases are predicted for 2018, accounting for 80 percent of cancerous brain tumors. Although glioma rates have remained relatively flat over time, the prognosis for this disease is generally poor, with a three-year mortality rate of 90 percent.
Dr. Bondy went on to describe known risk factors for glioma, including groundbreaking studies in this area. Some factors have been observed to be protective, including respiratory allergies and aspirin use. Others are established as increasing glioma risk. For example, radiation exposure is well understood as a risk factor, revealed through a study of individuals treated with x-rays to the head for the fungal infection ringworm. Dr. Bondy’s particular area of interest, however, is characterizing genetic predisposition for glioma, including the risk associated with rare inherited syndromes.
In closing the seminar, Dr. Bondy reviewed ongoing efforts to study genetic risk in the Gliogene International Consortium, which she leads. Gliogene, the largest multi-national family study of glioma, uses a combination of functional genomics and case-control studies to find mutations associated with familial glioma. A major aspect of this research is the sequencing of families with two or more glioma cases to look for rare or novel mutations. In addition, a recent analysis of eight glioma genome-wide association studies identified 13 new risk loci. So far, the group has been able to explain just under 30 percent of familial glioma risk.
Over lunch and discussion with DCEG fellows, organized by postdoctoral fellows Dr. Layne and Eboneé Butler, Ph.D., Dr. Bondy addressed the importance of scientific innovation and gave advice on how to be productive while remaining politically astute to the needs and priorities of research teams. Dr. Butler reflected on the discussion, “she has a deep passion and commitment to mentorship and training for early-stage cancer epidemiologists.” Dr. Bondy encouraged the fellows to practice resilience and to remain steadfast towards their research goals over the inevitable highs and lows that will occur along the course of their careers.