Cancer epidemiology: researchers take a broader approach

Elizabeth Platz at 2012 Johns Hopkins Nano-Bio Symposium. Photo by Stephanie Fraley

“Where do cancer data even come from?” This was the question posed to Dr. Elizabeth Platz prior to the 2012 Johns Hopkins University Nano-Bio Symposium. Dr. Platz is the Martin D. Abeloff, MD Scholar in Cancer Prevention and director of the Cancer Epidemiology, Prevention, & Control Training Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As a cancer epidemiologist, Platz studies the frequency, distribution, and causes of cancer using data collected by the National Cancer Institute. By looking at these data, epidemiologists hope to understand why cancer occurs and what might be done to prevent it. “Cancer mortality in the US is declining and has been for some time,” Platz said. “The question is why.”

Dr. Platz and other cancer epidemiologists work on answering this “why.” Platz explained that cancer epidemiologists hypothesize why cancer rates may be high in certain segments of the population, follow a cohort of at-risk patients to see if they develop disease, and then try to figure out if some risk factor could be partially responsible for the disease. By identifying risk factors, cancer epidemiologists can influence public policy and promote preventative action.

Increasingly, cancer epidemiologists are working with researchers trying to answer basic science questions. An example of Dr. Platz’s recent interdisciplinary work involves finding tissue-based markers for prostate cancer, which could inform diagnoses and treatment decisions made by clinicians. One potential marker the researchers found is telomere length. Telomeres are repeated units on the ends of all chromosomes. Platz and her team of collaborators at Johns Hopkins showed that variability in tumor cell telomere length gave a 40-times greater risk for recurrence when compared with low telomere length variability. In the future, telomere length may be quantified following removal of a patient’s primary tumor before deciding on the next course of treatment.

Dr. Platz finished her talk by discussing the importance of having scientists in the nanobiotechnology fields work with cancer epidemiologists. Nanobiotechnology could greatly help epidemiologists measure exposure to environmental toxins and handle large amounts of data, allowing the epidemiologists to better make and test hypotheses about why cancer occurs. Future collaborations have the potential to drastically improve cancer care and patient survival rates.

Story by Colin Paul, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins with interests in microfabrication and cancer metastasis.

 

Poster presenters needed for symposium on environmental, health impacts of nanotech

2009 INBT Poster Session (Photo: Jon Christofersen)

Poster titles are now being accepted for Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology’s fourth annual symposium, “Environmental and Health Impacts of Engineered Nanomaterials” set for Thursday, April 29, at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers from across the university, from government and industry, and from other universities are invited to submit posters by the deadline of April 22.

All students, faculty and staff affiliated with any Johns Hopkins campus or school may attend the symposium for free. Students from UMBC and Morgan State University may also attend at no cost.

This year’s symposium brings together faculty experts engaged in various aspects of nanotechnology risk assessment and management research. Jonathan Links, an INBT-affiliated professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, assembled the slate of speakers from across four divisions of the university.

Links said that this diversity reflects the multidisciplinary approach needed to effectively address questions of how nanomaterials move through and interact with the environment, and how they may impact biological organisms, including humans. Links added that despite some concerted efforts to assess risk, many questions remain unanswered about how engineered nanomaterials and nanoparticles impact human health and the environment.

“Without these data, we are flying blind. But when risk assessment is performed in tandem with research into beneficial applications, it helps researchers make better decisions about how nanotechnology is used in the future,” Links said.

Along with Links, professors from the Bloomberg School presenting talks at the symposium include Ellen Silbergeld, of Environmental Health Sciences, and Patrick Breysse, of Environmental Health Engineering and Environmental Health Sciences. William P. Ball, a professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering; Justin Hanes, a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology, with joint appointments in the Whiting School’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Bloomberg School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences; and Howard Fairbrother, a professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, will talk about the transport of nanomaterials through environmental and biological systems, as well as the unusual properties of manufactured nanomaterials.

Tomas Guilarte, recently appointed chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a former professor at the Bloomberg School, will provide a presentation on neurotoxicity of nanoparticles. Ronald White, an associate scientist and deputy director of the Bloomberg School’s Risk Sciences and Public Policy Institute, will discuss policy implications based on risk assessment.

Symposium talks will be from 8:30 a.m. until noon in Sheldon Hall (W1214), and a poster session, with prizes for top presenters, will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in Feinstone Hall (E2030).

To register for the symposium or to display a poster, click here.

For more information about INBT’s fourth annual symposium, click here.

Story by Mary Spiro

Environmental, health impacts of engineered nanomaterials theme of INBT’s annual symposium

By 2015, the National Science Foundation reports that the nanotechnology industry could be worth as much as $1 trillion. Nanomaterials have many beneficial applications for industry, medicine and basic scientific research. However, because nanomaterials are just a few atoms in size, they also may pose potential risks for human health and the environment.

Cross-sectional autoradiograms of rodent brains showing (A) control physiological state; and (B) and (C) showing distribution of brain injury from an injected neurotoxicant. Red areas indicate the highest concentrations of a biomarker that identifies brain areas that are damaged by the neurotoxicant. (Guilarte Lab/JHU)

Cross-sectional autoradiograms of rodent brains showing (A) control physiological state; and (B) and (C) showing distribution of brain injury from an injected neurotoxicant. Red areas indicate the highest concentrations of a biomarker that identifies brain areas that are damaged by the neurotoxicant. (Guilarte Lab/JHU)

To increase awareness of Hopkins’ research in this emerging area of investigation, the theme for the fourth annual symposium hosted by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) will be environmental and health impacts of engineered nanomaterials. INBT’s symposium will be held Thursday, April 29, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.

Morning talks in Sheldon Hall by eight Hopkins faculty experts will discuss neurotoxicity, exposure assessment, manufacture and characterization of nanomaterials, policy implications and many other topics. In the afternoon, a poster session will be held in Feinstone Hall featuring nanobiotechnology research from across the university’s divisions.

INBT is seeking corporate sponsorships for the symposium. Interested parties should contact Thomas Fekete, INBT’s director of corporate partnerships at tmfeke@jhu.edu or 410-516-8891.

Media inquiries should be directed to Mary Spiro, INBT’s science writer and media relations director, at mspiro@jhu.edu or 410-516-4802.

A call for posters announcement will be made at a later date.

More: