Cancer is the major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States and many other countries in the world. The Cancer Epidemiology (CE) Research Program seeks to conduct high impact research to improve understanding of the etiology and genetics of cancer and identify biomarkers for cancer risk and progression to inform the design of effective cancer prevention and control programs. The mission of the CE Research Program is to create an optimal environment for facilitating the interaction and collaboration of investigators conducting cancer epidemiology research and the training of the next generation of scientists.
The major scientific goals of the program are:
To identify environmental and genetic factors that influence the risk and survival of cancer.
To identify and evaluate potentially informative biomarkers for cancer risk assessment, early detection, and prediction of cancer progression.
To identify the determinants of disparities in cancer risk and survival at the local, national, and global levels.
To accomplish these goals, CE members conduct research among populations at risk and among cancer patients. They apply a wide range of methodologies, including analytic observational studies and intervention trials and use state-of-the-art technologies, such as next-generation sequencing, metabolomics, and transcriptomics.
The CE program is broadly organized into four main thematic areas:
- Molecular and genetic epidemiology
- Nutrition, lifestyle, and environmental factors for cancer risk
- Investigation of prognostic factors for cancer survival
- International studies and health disparities research.
Another major focus of the CE program is to train the next generation of elite researchers and leaders in cancer epidemiology research. The CE program currently hosts three NIH-funded training programs in cancer molecular and genetic epidemiology (R25CA160056), international epidemiology (D43TW008313), and women's health research (K12HD043483).
Xiao-Ou Shu, M.D., Ph.D., Co-Leader, is an Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and Associate Director for Global Health at VICC and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology. Her research over the last 28 years has established her expertise and leadership in conducting large-scale observational epidemiology studies and nutritional epidemiology and cancer survivorship research. She promotes the active participation of CE members in the large, ongoing cohort studies at Vanderbilt and elsewhere, and facilitates the launching of new research projects using these established resources. Dr. Shu promotes international collaboration and coordinates VICC’s global cancer research activities, which cover five continents and over 20 countries. Dr. Shu leads CE program efforts to apply new technologies, such as metabolomics and NanoString nCounter, to the identification of biomarkers for use in cancer risk and prognosis assessments, by conducting methodological studies to evaluate the technical and intrapersonal variations of particular assays, critical information for the use of biomarkers in clinical applications. In another major role for the CE program, Dr. Shu leads CE’s educational programs. Dr. Shu is the PI of the MAGEC and VSCRTRP training grants, she also serves on the Internal Scientific Advisory Committee for the Meharry Medical College (MMC)/VICC Partnership (U54/NCI: Adunyah/Moses, PIs), contributing expertise in the area of cancer epidemiology and survivorship to that partnership and bringing back important perspectives on cancer health disparities to the CE program.
Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., Co-Leader, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, is Professor and Chief of the Division of Epidemiology and Director of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center. Dr. Zheng is an NCI MERIT Award recipient with major research interests in nutritional, molecular, and genetic epidemiology studies of cancer, particularly breast and colorectal cancer. Dr. Zheng has directed multiple research projects to better understand the causes of cancer and other diseases, as described in over 600 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Currently, he is the Principal Investigator or a Joint-PI of seven large, NCI-funded epidemiology studies of cancer. He co-leads major research projects in the Vanderbilt GI SPORE and Breast Cancer SPORE. As a co-leader of the CE program, he works closely with Dr. Shu and VICC leadership to coordinate cancer epidemiology research at VICC, including collaborations with other VICC programs. Dr. Zheng plays a major role in the recruitment and mentoring of cancer epidemiology faculty. Working with Dr. Shu and other CE members, he organizes program research retreats and workshops to promote interactions and collaborations. Dr. Zheng’s research spans several VICC programs, with currently ongoing project conducted with members of the CO, Breast, GI, and Thoracic/Head & Neck programs.
As co-leaders of the CE program, Drs. Shu and Zheng serve as liaisons to the Cancer Center Director and senior leadership for the fostering of inter-programmatic collaboration and integration of cancer epidemiology into the clinical and basic research activities of the Cancer Center, including the provision of epidemiologic resources and access to large patient populations for whom the translation of scientific discoveries into practice is important.