Joel Mason, M.D., at Tufts University was awarded the Marvin M. Davis Research Award in Colorectal Cancer by the Prevent Cancer Foundation last year for his project on obesity and colorectal cancer risk. Below is an update on his project as he marks the halfway point.
What led to your interest in colorectal cancer prevention research?
My initial interest in colorectal cancer prevention was stimulated by a quite remarkable role model, Dr. Bernard Levin, whom I worked with in medical school and who later became Vice President for Cancer Prevention at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
How has the funding you received from the Prevent Cancer Foundation affected your career in cancer prevention research?
I have focused on other topics in cancer prevention over the past two decades, and had virtually no resources to pursue my newfound interest in how obesity impacts cancer development. This grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation has been critical in enabling me to expand into different territories in cancer prevention.
How is your research progressing? Any surprising developments so far?
Unfortunately, we have encountered a number of obstacles that have compelled us to re-adjust our timeline, but I have learned that this is always the case when asking important questions that others have not asked before—good research requires dogged persistence and the willingness to critically troubleshoot when unexpected obstacles arise. We have nevertheless made considerable progress, and I am quite pleased.
How will your current research project advance the field of cancer prevention?
Despite all efforts to eradicate obesity in our society, the fact is that the condition will remain prevalent for at least the next few decades. The scientific community must find ways to block the pathway(s) by which obesity enhances cancer risk. My current work seeks to identify ‘targets’ at the cellular level that we can exploit to block these pathway(s).
If you had not received funding for this project last year, what would have happened to this project?
Without my funding from Prevent Cancer, my academic horizon would have shifted away from the topic of obesity and colon cancer. Moreover, the impact of this Prevent Cancer grant goes beyond the support my experiments. A year ago, a Tufts graduate student had shown interest in working with me on the obesity project, and when I secured this grant, it formalized her interest in pursuing this work as her Ph.D. thesis. She is my first Ph.D. student whose thesis will be focused on obesity and cancer development. Without funding for this project, she likely would have chosen another topic.