Pitt vice chancellor named president of AACR

By Danni Zhou / Staff Writer

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With a new president of the American Association of Cancer Research hailing from Pitt, the University is proving instrumental in the fight to cure cancer.

The AACR appointed Nancy E. Davidson, director of University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, as its new president at the New Orleans conference on Tuesday. Researchers from the UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter also presented a study that showed ingesting watercress extracts could reduce the risk of cancer.

In her new position, Davidson, a world-renowned breast cancer researcher according to the AACR, will work with the AACR board of directors and lead its 35,000 members to continue the association’s mission to prevent and cure cancer through research.

Davidson is the associate vice chancellor of cancer research at Pitt, but doesn’t restrict herself to her office. She’s also an oncology, medicine and pharmacology, and chemical biology professor, and she teaches at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“It’s an exciting challenge and honor to lead the AACR, an organization that has an impressive reputation for its high-quality, innovative cancer research,” Davidson said. “I am eager to work with the AACR community on its singular focus on preventing and curing cancer through research.”

Known for her studies explaining the roles of hormones and other factors, such as the estrogen receptor in causing breast cancer, Davidson has also established therapeutic approaches for patients who failed to respond to common treatments. In the past, she has led clinical trials involving chemotherapy and endocrine-related therapies for treating premenopausal breast cancer.

According to the AACR, Davidson finished her medical education with a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute after a residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Serving as a medical staff fellow, Davidson has been an active AACR member since 1988, where she’s served on several medical boards and committees such as the Continuing Medical Education Committee and the editorial board for the medical journal, Cancer Prevention Research.

At the conference, researchers at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter also presented the second phase of a clinical trial they’ve been conducting, in which they give smokers watercress extracts to take by mouth multiple times per day to reduce their chances of getting cancer.

According to Jian-Min Yuan, the lead researcher and an associate director of UPCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Science, said watercress, a vegetable similar to broccoli and cauliflower, is known to have cancer-fighting effects.

In the trial, Yuan and his fellow researchers found that the watercress extract prevented those who took it multiple times per day from the harms of tobacco-derived carcinogens.

“While [only] eating cruciferous vegetables, such as watercress and broccoli, is good for people, they are unlikely to have the same pronounced effect as the extract,” Yuan said.

Also an epidemiologist at Univeristy of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Yuan and his colleagues, including six professors from University of Minnesota, conducted the clinical trial on 82 cigarette smokers after receiving the grant from the National Cancer Institute.

According to Yuan, watercress can become instrumental in fighting cancer because of the intensely addictive nature of nicotine.

“Nicotine is very addictive, and quitting can take time and multiple relapses,” Yuan said. “Having a tolerable, nontoxic treatment, like watercress extract, that can protect smokers against cancer would be an incredibly valuable tool in our cancer-fighting arsenal.”

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