EGRP News Flash - July 27, 2009

Cancer Epidemiologist Joe Patel Dies

Dr. A.R. "Joe" Patel, who retired from NCI in January 2006, died on June 3. Most of his career was spent working in the extramural epidemiology research program, where he was known especially for his early stewardship of research on diet, nutrition and cancer and on minorities and cancer. He had worked for NCI for 28 years and retired as a Program Director with the Epidemiology and Genetics Research Program of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences.

For the last 15 years of his career at NCI, he focused on encouraging extramural investigators to launch epidemiologic studies on U.S. ethnic and minority populations and cancer, an achievement Dr. Patel viewed as his most important. With expansion of this research portfolio, he began promoting the establishment of cohort studies so that long-term prospective studies, particularly on diet and cancer causation in diverse populations, would be possible. By the time he retired, Dr. Patel left behind a range of cohort studies for which he was program director that included populations of U.S. African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Japanese, Filipinos, Chinese and Caucasians. Some cohort studies have wide name recognition, such as the Nurses' Health Study, Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, Black Women's Health Study and California Teachers Study.

In the early 1980s, he jumpstarted investigation of diet and cancer by writing a Request for Applications (RFA) to encourage research grants in dietary assessment methods. "At this time, diet and nutrition were only starting to be appreciated as possible determinants of cancer. The RFA was central to the advancements that have been made in the field of nutritional epidemiology," said Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University, who is internationally renowned for his research on diet and nutrition and was one of Patel's grantees for more than 20 years.

"The development of validated dietary assessment methods through the NCI funding had a major benefit not only for cancer research but many other fields as well," said Willett. "For example, as a result of leads provided by dietary assessments, vitamin A supplementation is now part of standard care for patients with visual impairment due to retinitis. Trans fatty acids have been identified as an important contributor to coronary heart disease and are rapidly being removed from the food supply. B-vitamin supplements are part of standard care for pregnant women in Africa who are infected with HIV. None of this would have happened without the methodological developments encouraged by Dr. Patel."

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