Tag Archives: University of Hawaii Cancer Center

Building a healthy core

Health studies make headlines nearly every day—and rightly so, since most of us want to read about ways to enjoy healthier lives. But what happens when the newest studies seem to yield conflicting findings?

Dr. John Chen

“You really have a medical impact if you publish a study, and you certainly do not want to mislead the public,” said Dr. John Chen of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). “Unfortunately, an alarming number of biomedical studies, even published studies, do not seem to have a sound study design or have handled their data inappropriately.”

Dr. Chen and his team of statistical professionals, the new Biostatistics & Data Management Core at JABSOM, are available to collaborate with investigators on grants and to provide research design and statistical analysis support to basic science, clinical and translational researchers.  Their research design and data analysis skills can be an enormous help to researchers.

Chen added that they can help researchers from very early on, at the conception of a study.  “As statisticians, we have been trained to think about randomization, bias, blinding, confounding, concepts which are critical to an investigation that biomedical researchers may or may not have thought about. Certainly as professional biostatisticians, data analysis is also our bread-and-butter.  To have us handle your data management and analysis is like having CPAs doing your tax returns.  It might cost you a little bit, but will be worry free,” said Chen.

Even better, professional biostatistics and data management support can help increase the odds that a biomedical researcher gets the opportunity in the first place to embark on a research investigation.

“A researcher’s chance of receiving funding is improved dramatically when sound statistical reasoning and design, and proper data analysis plan are employed to support the investigator,” Chen explained.  The availability and strength of biostatistics and research design expertise has been shown to result in substantive increases in the research funding and the quality of biological and health sciences research at academic centers across the country.  Chen points to institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, with more than 140 biostatisticians, and even smaller universities like Wake Forest, which has over 60.   Chen’s new team at JABSOM currently includes three other Ph.D. consultants, Hyeong Jun Ahn, James Davis, and Guangxiang (George) Zhang.

Since the reopening of the core, various types of service requests have been coming in. “We’re like a good plumber,” said Chen with a smile. “People come to us with different problems all along the research chain, from study design to interpreting findings, and we try our best to help them all go through smoothly.”

The Biostatistics & Data Management Core is trying to reach out to as many people as it can, in and out of academia.  “With strong collaborations and support from biostatistics groups at the University of Hawai’i Cancer Center, the Department of Public Health Sciences, and Hawai’i State Department of Health, we want to build a ‘Hawai’i Biostat ‘Ohana’ to encourage more communication and collaboration among biostatistical professionals working in our islands,” said Chen.  “We want to help produce the next generation of strong, independent investigators, research leaders and mentors in Hawai’i.”

The Biostatistics & Data Management Core is located on the top floor of the Medical Education Building in Kaka`ako. It’s worth the elevator ride to get there.

The Biostatistics & Data Management Core website is at http://biostat.jabsom.hawaii.edu/.

Top photo: Pictured are members of the Biostatistics & Data Management Core: Guangxiang (George) Zhang, Ph.D.; John J. Chen, Ph.D., Director; James Davis, Ph.D., Karli Taniguchi; Hyeong Jun Ahn, PhD. Photo credit: Iris Chen.

Leading diverse cancer research

Since cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, the research undertaken by the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is even more critical and compelling.  One of the Center’s largest and most ethnically diverse research projects is the Multiethnic Cohort Study (MEC), which follows more than 215,000 men and women primarily of African-American, Japanese, Latino, Native Hawaiian and Caucasian origin, including more than 70,000 Asians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawai‘i.

Funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1993, the MEC is being conducted at the Center and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. The ethnic diversity of Hawai‘i and California has made it possible to develop this large study with its unique representation of minority populations.

Established to examine lifestyle risk factors, especially diet and nutrition, as well as genetic susceptibility (an inherited tendency to react more strongly to particular exposures) in relation to the causation of cancer, every cohort member completed a specially designed, self-administered, 26-page baseline questionnaire on entry to the MEC Study (between 1993-1996). The questionnaire included an extensive quantitative diet history as well as background information and medical, medication, physical activity and female reproductive histories.

In addition to the baseline questionnaire, a four-page questionnaire was sent in 1999-2001 and another 26-page questionnaire was sent in 2003-2008 to gather additional information. Biological specimens (mainly blood and urine samples) were collected from selected members of the cohort, starting in 1996, but the main collection took place from 2001-2006. These specimens enable the research team to study dietary components measured in blood and urine in relation to cancer risk, and also the interaction between genetic susceptibility and diet.  Biological specimens on more than 70,000 cohort participants are being stored in special low temperature freezers in Hawai‘i and California.

The study will test many different hypotheses related to diet and other factors in order to determine why different ethnic groups have different risks of developing cancer and other chronic diseases. Some of the study’s goals are to improve understanding of ethnic/racial differences in cancer occurrence and bring important benefits to Hawai‘i and the Asia Pacific region, with the hopes of preventing cancer and other chronic diseases in the populations of the U.S. and rest of the world.

Dr. Larry Kolonel

Said principal investigator Dr. Larry Kolonel, “No other study of this type encompasses such diverse ethnic populations.  As a result, we are an essential participant in many national and international scientific collaborations that seek to understand how diet and genetics contribute to cancer causation, and how the knowledge we are gaining will help reduce the burden of cancer in Hawaii and globally.”

For more information on the MEC study, visit  http://www.crch.org/multiethniccohort/.