Caporaso Retires from NCI
Dr. Neil Caporaso, an internationally recognized expert in genetic and environmental factors influencing lung cancer, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and related familial hematologic disorders, retired from the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics in October. He served as chief of the Genetic Epidemiology Branch from 2011 to 2016 and was most recently a senior investigator in the Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch.
Caporaso’s earliest work focused on the then-controversial idea that genes could influence cancers with known strong environmental determinants. He advocated for and performed studies using pharmaco-genetic tools and biomarkers to demonstrate the importance of genetic variation in risk for lung and bladder cancer, malignancies with strong environmental influences. This and other work on genes involved in metabolism of carcinogens and other substances provided early prototypes for future large-scale biomarker studies of cancer.
Based on these principles, Caporaso and colleagues launched a landmark case-control study of lung cancer known as the EAGLE (Environment and Genetics in Lung Cancer Etiology) study. One of the many novel findings from EAGLE identified short time to first cigarette as an independent risk factor for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Recently, Caporaso described the unique characteristics of light and intermittent smokers in a comprehensive analysis of data pooled from three nationally representative surveys.
He utilized the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial Cohort Study and other cohorts to evaluate and validate new technologies for biomarker studies, laying the groundwork for the study of cytokines, metabolomics and the microbiome, which have accelerated the science broadly on these important aspects of human health.
In the study of lymphoproliferative malignancies, Caporaso made seminal contributions to research on CLL, Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Waldenström macroglobulinemia, including numerous clinically significant findings.
While most of his work focused on observations from large study populations, Caporaso did not overlook the importance of individual participants. A unique single-cell integrative study on a CLL patient identified chromosomal alterations in early cell clones, elimination of clonal populations following therapy and subsequent appearance of new alterations that present in a major clonal population dominant at the patient’s death. The study demonstrated that CLL can evolve gradually during indolent phases and undergo rapid changes following therapy.
Recently, Caporaso has been engaged in novel research investigating the possible role of sleep, circadian rhythms and chronotype in relation to cancer. He conducted early studies investigating the role of biomarkers in sleep and circadian disruption and has postulated that insulin resistance, which plays an important role in obesity, may be a common link in circadian and sleep disorders.