Last month, I co-chaired the steering committee to plan the 3rd Annual Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics Fellows’ Training Symposium. Our symposium’s theme this year was, “Shaping Future Research: Provocative Questions in Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics.”
Our theme of “Provocative Questions” stemmed from NCI Director Harold Varmus’ new initiative to identify the perplexing problems in cancer that have yet to be solved. These provocative questions may help to drive progress against cancer. Earlier this year, Dr. Varmus instructed his colleagues, including Doug Lowy of the NCI, Ed Harlow from Harvard, and Tyler Jacks from MIT, to spearhead workshops with top leaders in the field of cancer research. These workshops were designed for brainstorming the important problems and paradoxes in cancer research that have received insufficient attention for various reasons.
Our symposium steering committee wanted to bring our fellows together and give them the opportunity to hear from top leaders and discuss the provocative questions in the field of cancer epidemiology and genetics. We had invited Dr. Varmus to our symposium to kick-off our own discussion, but unfortunately, he was unable to attend.
The top leaders we invited to our symposium were:
Jonathan M. Samet, M.D., M.S., from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. In his lecture, “Cancer: A Neglected Global Health Problem,” Dr. Samet spoke on cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment in the context of global health and provided examples of provocative questions that required solutions that span from the global and national spheres to the family and individual spheres.
Margaret R. Spitz, M.D., M.P.H., of the MD Anderson Cancer Center. In “Epidemiologic Challenges: ‘Confounding’ Our Future,” she discussed provocative questions in molecular epidemiology, including the hereditary components of cancer and the biological basis of cancer susceptibility, the mechanisms that link energy balance and obesity to cancer, the relationships between the human microbiome and cancer, as well as the relationship between the microbiome and obesity.
John Groopman, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He discussed, “Translating Molecular Sciences to Public Health Prevention Strategies.” Dr. Groopman encouraged fellows to think long-term about cancer prevention and described examples of research advancements, including individualized cancer genomes and epigenomes, the exposome, and population studies that lead to biomarker discovery and validation.
Now that we’ve discussed and thought about the provocative questions in our field of cancer epidemiology and genetics, we await Dr. Varmus’ approach to using this initiative to tackling these problems. I hope that there will be new research opportunities for fellows at the NCI and in the extramural community to apply their excitement and talents to advancing what we know about cancer, how we can prevent cancer, and how we treat cancer.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Government.
Wenny Lin, PhD, MPH, is a fellow in the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the National Cancer Institute. Prior to joining the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology & Genetics, Wenny earned her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 and her PhD in Cell & Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008.