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UPCI Researcher Named Outstanding Investigator by NCI, Awarded $6.3M for Studying How Food Can Lower Cancer Risks

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 6, 2015Thomas Kensler, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and chemical biology and co-leader for the Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), was awarded a $6.3 million Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This new award acknowledges experienced researchers and provides them with long-term support for their exceptional work.
 
Dr. Kensler’s research focuses on chemoprevention, or how food can be used to lower the risk of developing cancer caused by unavoidable environmental toxins.
 
“The NCI Outstanding Investigator Award addresses a problem that many cancer researchers experience:  finding a balance between focusing on their science while ensuring that they will have funds to continue their research in the future,” said Dinah Singer, Ph.D., director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Biology. “With seven years of uninterrupted funding, NCI is providing investigators the opportunity to fully develop exceptional and ambitious cancer research programs.”
 
The seven-year grant is one of just 60 awarded in its inaugural year.
 
Research has shown that controlling diet, increasing exercise and quitting smoking can decrease the risk of developing cancer; however, environmental toxins such as fossil fuel combustion products are more difficult to mitigate. Past studies by Dr. Kensler’s team in China, where environmental controls are less rigorous, have examined the bioactive molecules in broccoli and how they may help people there detoxify air pollutants.
 
“Pollution is a global problem and its effects are seen most often among the elderly, disabled, children and minorities. We need effective and affordable interventions, and using food-based strategies could be the ideal way to address this,” Dr. Kensler said.
 
He and his team will focus on a biological pathway known to play a role in detoxification, identify and validate biomarkers of its activity, and examine the molecular consequences of its chronic activation.
 
“It’s truly an honor for Dr. Kensler to be among the first to receive this prestigious award. He has pioneered our understanding of how chemically reactive constituents in foodstuffs can profoundly and positively impact tissue defense and repair mechanisms. We’re proud of the work he is doing to try and lessen the burden of cancer, not only in western Pennsylvania but around the globe,” said Bruce Freeman, Ph.D., UPMC-Irwin Fridovich Professor and Chair of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology.
 
Research reported in this publication was supported by the NCI under award number 1R35CA197222-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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