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DCEG Mourns Charles Land, Internationally Acclaimed Statistician and Former Principal Investigator

Posted on January 31, 2018

Dr. Charles Land with his award for delivering the Lauriston Taylor Lecture at the NCRP

Charles Land

Charles E. Land, Ph.D., an internationally acclaimed statistical expert on radiation risk assessment, died January 25, 2018, at his home in Portugal. He retired in August 2009 from his position of principal investigator in the Radiation Epidemiology Branch (REB) in the NCI Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG), after a 34-year career. Dr. Land will be remembered not only for his pioneering work in modern radiation dose-response analysis and modeling of low-dose cancer risk, but also as a delightful humble man who loved his family, Japan, music, and his work. He was a generous mentor and beloved friend to his REB colleagues and many others.

Dr. Land earned a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Chicago and began his career studying radiation at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) in Hiroshima, where he conducted the first dose-response analysis of cancer risk in the Life Span Study cohort of atomic bomb survivors in collaboration with the late Dr. Gilbert Beebe.

In 1975, he joined NCI as a founding member of REB. He continued collaborating with the ABCC and its successor, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, and led numerous other studies. In a series of seminal investigations, he and his colleagues clarified the pattern of breast cancer risk associated with radiation exposure. These studies provided new mechanistic insights into breast carcinogenesis, while serving as the prototype for epidemiologic studies of other radiogenic cancers.

His work on the probability of causation was critical for the US workers radiation compensation program. The sophisticated statistical models that he developed with uncertainty intervals formed the basis for the online Interactive RadioEpidemiological Program (IREP), which is still in use today. Dr. Land was instrumental in elucidating the cancer risk following radioactive fallout from the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program. In addition, he analyzed data for studies of global and other radioactive fallout scenarios, initiated a study of thyroid nodules among residents in radiation-contaminated Kazakhstan.

In reflecting on her colleague, Amy Berrington de González, D.Phil., chief of the Radiation Epidemiology Branch, said, “Charles was a deep thinker and great character who made important contributions to many areas of radiation research. I still refer frequently to his classic 1980 Science paper, where he elegantly explained the statistical and practical difficulties in low-dose radiation epidemiology.”

Dr. Land served on many important radiation protection committees, including the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, and the Three Mile Island Follow-up Research Subcommittee. His numerous awards and honors included the NIH Director’s Award and NIH Merit Award, the NCI Charles Harkin Award for Research in Thyroid Cancer, and the USPHS Outstanding Service and Meritorious Service medals. In 2010, he delivered the Thirty-Fourth Lauriston S. Taylor Lecture at the Annual Meeting of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. In his introduction for this prestigious lecture, Owen Hoffman quoted Charles as saying, “All I did was to discover and explain the obvious.”

Dr. Land is survived by his wife Vera and sons, David and Graham.