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Vol. LVIII, No. 3
February 10, 2006
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NCI's Patel Retires After 28 Years

Dr. A.R. "Joe" Patel retired in January with 28 years of service at the National Cancer Institute. He spent most of his career working in the extramural epidemiology research program, where he is known especially for his early stewardship of research on diet, nutrition and cancer and on minorities and cancer.

In 1977, with a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry, Patel joined NCI to manage contracts for testing chemical agents for carcinogenicity and a carcinogen standards repository. Soon thereafter he became responsible for developing the extramural diet, nutrition and cancer research program, including animal and human studies. He wrote the institute's first Request for Proposals for contracts to study natural inhibitors of carcinogenesis, predating the establishment of NCI's large-scale cancer chemoprevention research program.

In the early 1980s, he jumpstarted investigation of diet and cancer by writing a Request for Applications 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."

Patel followed the initial RFA by writing two others to stimulate development of biochemical markers of human exposure to carcinogens and of cancer susceptibility for use in epidemiologic studies.

In the early 1990s, his focus turned to encouraging extramural investigators to launch epidemiologic studies on U.S. ethnic and minority populations and cancer, an achievement Patel views 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.

He leaves a range of cohort studies for which he was program director that includes 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.

Patel also is pleased to have written an RFA in the early 1980s on study of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke and cancer risk. The findings from these studies indicated an association, caught the attention of regulatory agencies and paved the way for measures to curb smoking in public places and educate the public about the dangers of second-hand smoke, he said.

He retired from the Epidemiology and Genetics Research Program of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. With his newfound time, Patel will work part-time as a tax consultant and financial advisor.

NLM's MedlinePlus Wins World Honor

MedlinePlus, NLM's consumer health web site, is one of two U.S. winners of the 2005 World Summit Award. The award is part of the program of the World Summit on the Information Society, a United Nations effort organized by the International Telecommunication Union, the UN Industrial Development Organization, the UN information and communication technologies task force and UNESCO.

 

Forty products representing best practice examples received the award at a presentation in Tunis, Tunisia, last November. The products were selected in a five-stage process from over 20,000 candidates from 168 countries. The selection of the best products in the world included national evaluations, a grand jury review of over 750 nominations and a 6-day judging process.

MedlinePlus received its award in the e-health category. The only other U.S. winner was the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, in the e-culture category. Dr. Joan R. Challinor, a member of the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science from 1994-2005 and commission chair from 2003-2004, accepted the award on behalf of NLM. She said, "What we try to do is to put out understandable information so that patients and their families can learn about whatever disease or health initiative they want to.Two million people from 200 countries a day log onto MedlinePlus."

"Receiving this award was a significant honor," says Eve-Marie Lacroix, chief of the Public Services Division, the area that produces MedlinePlus. "It is a tribute to the excellence that we strive to maintain in producing a web site that consumers can use to find answers to their health questions. But we couldn't do it without the outstanding information that all NIH institutes and centers produce for the public."

Steven Awarded Medal By Czech University

Dr. Alasdair Steven, chief of the Laboratory of Structural Biology Research, NIAMS, was recently awarded the Medal of the 1st Faculty of Medicine by the Institute of Cellular Biology and Pathology of the Czech Republic's Charles University. Steven was recognized for his contributions to basic biomedical research; for his support of Czech science and for enhancing the international image of the Charles University faculty. The university's tradition of faculty medals is centuries old, and the medal is the university's highest honor. The list of awardees is short, numbering only 106 in the 20th century.

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