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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Emily Vogtmann Appointed Earl Stadtman Investigator

Posted on February 20, 2019

Emily Vogtmann

Emily Vogtmann

Emily Vogtmann, Ph.D., M.P.H., was appointed as an Earl Stadtman tenure-track investigator in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch (MEB) in November 2018. Dr. Vogtmann applies cutting-edge techniques in epidemiologic studies to investigate the role of the human microbiome in cancer risk and progression overall, and in particular, for the etiology of head and neck, and lower gastrointestinal cancers. She joined MEB in 2013 as a Cancer Prevention Fellow and was promoted to the position of research fellow in 2016.

Microbial cells slightly outnumber human cells in the body and are known to have both deleterious and beneficial effects. Nevertheless, the mechanisms through which the human microbiota contribute to cancer and other diseases remain poorly characterized. Early studies in the field produced results which were hard to replicate; however, many of the rich DCEG cohort studies include samples that lend themselves to microbiome analysis and validation of results.

Lack of study replication could be driven by multiple factors, including sample collection, laboratory handling, and bioinformatics. To address some of these methodological gaps, Dr. Vogtmann conducted studies to evaluate the impact of different sample collection protocols for both fecal and oral samples and helped coordinate the MicroBiome Quality Control project, which included many of the top microbiome laboratories around the country. The findings from these studies indicated the necessity of careful study design and sample collection, and standardized laboratory procedures in the field.

In applying these approaches to her etiologic research, Dr. Vogtmann evaluates both the natural history of malignancies and the associated microbiota. For example, she is using oral wash samples collected in three prospective DCEG cohort studies to investigate the prospective risk of multiple cancers associated with the oral microbiota. This study is well powered to investigate associations with cancer risk and has the potential to provide novel etiologic insight and could lead to the discovery of microbial factors for use in early detection, precision treatment, and/or risk stratification.

In addition to studying the direct relationships between microbiota and disease risk, she is also examining the mediating effect of the microbiome on exposures known to be associated with cancer risk. Dr. Vogtmann leads the largest study of the association of specific tobacco types (i.e., cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff) with the oral microbiota in the nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). With this rich dataset, she will investigate the relationships of the oral microbiota with other risk factors, such as alcohol intake, diet, oral human papillomavirus infection (HPV), and diabetes.

Named after Earl Stadtman, a noted biochemist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Stadtman Program is a trans-NIH recruitment initiative designed to attract the most talented early-career scientists to NIH.