Current Research Projects
The unprecedented developments in molecular biology and genetics have transformed the nature of cancer research for the laboratory-based scientist. The impact of these advances on population-based science is still evolving and many challenges remain unmet because of the unique aspects of carrying out research in diverse human populations. New models of multi- and transdisciplinary research are needed to address the two main branches of population-based cancer research: etiology and therapeutic intervention. Because the driving force and wellspring of the aforementioned transformations lie in the basic and molecular sciences, it has been a major goal of my efforts to create a laboratory and collaborative environment based on extramural funds to support the integration of population scientists with basic and clinical scientists.
Specifically, our program in molecular epidemiology focuses on the etiology of human cancer in human populations. This focus is distinct yet complementary to many of UCSF's efforts to improve cancer treatment. The operative paradigm is that cancer is the outcome of a complex interplay of environmental exposures and genetic factors. An important corollary is that within populations there exist subgroups whose cancer risk involves distinct combinations of these environmental and genetic factors, thus giving rise to different etiologic pathways (what Knudsen called "oncodemes"). A major goal of our research is to delineate these pathways to facilitate cancer prevention and early diagnosis. Understanding molecular pathways will also foster drug development targeting specific pathways and will improve cancer therapies (individualize cancer interventions). Towards this goal my research has successfully integrated molecular and genetic models into population studies that delineate cancer pathways within neurologic, pulmonary, hematopoietic, and gastrointestinal malignancies.