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Last Updated: 04/08/13

Career Mentors Bring Young Investigator into Promising Skin Cancer Prevention Work

Cancer Training Branch

Native Americans in the Southwest call Arizona the “land of the endless sky,” yet out of that sky rains a continuous stream of UVB radiation. This type of radiation causes DNA damage that can lead to non-melanoma skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States accounting for almost two in every five cancer diagnoses.

David Alberts, M.D., director of the Arizona Comprehensive Cancer Center (ACCC) at the University of Arizona (UA), and his colleagues G. Timothy Bowden, Ph.D., deputy director, and Steve Stratton, Ph.D., drug development core leader, are all renowned researchers in the field and work as co-investigators on a Skin Cancer Program Project grant from the NCI. Part of their leadership includes mentoring young investigators that come to work in Tucson, such as Sally Dickinson, Ph.D.

“That’s part of what is so great about the ACCC,” Dr. Dickinson said. “There are about 35 post-docs working here, and we enjoy a high level of access to training and support systems both at the Cancer Center and throughout UA as a whole. The support from and contact with senior investigators is a priority, and so we benefit from a lot of valuable networking.”

Dr. Dickinson has just received her research assistant professorship at UA and is focusing on sulforaphane – a bioactive ingredient in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower – which Dr. Bowden’s lab is actively investigating as a cancer preventive agent. “One of the standard explanations for sulforaphane’s early experimental success has been activation of the Nrf2 gene,” Dr. Dickinson explained. Nrf2 is widely accepted as an essential transcription factor in protecting humans from oxidative stress-related diseases including UVB-induced damage.

This path from graduate student to assistant professor and cancer biologist at UA has been aided by Dr. Dickinson’s receipt of a Career Development Award (K07 grant) from NCI.* She has been aided by a team of outstanding mentors at ACCC in skin cancer research, mouse studies, drug formulation, bioethics, biostatistics, and clinical trial management.

“Moving into the active community of researchers looking at sulforaphane is really exciting,” Dr. Dickinson noted, while mentioning contacts and discussions she had at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. “We think sulforaphane is a powerful agent with potential for the prevention of cancers in many other tissues as well as skin,” she added. “I think the NCI award has opened up the path for me to investigate what looks like a truly vital opportunity in cancer prevention.”

*Grant Number: 1K07CA132956-01A1