'To Contribute To The Prevention And Cure Of Cancer'

Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D.
"From those early years, when Moffitt's scientific programs were first established, up until now, prevention has played a prominent role in our mission." - Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D.

A History of Moffitt's Efforts to Prevent Cancer

After nine years of planning and advocating for funding, Moffitt Cancer Center opened its doors and began treating patients in 1986. Today, ask Moffitt team members about the mission and most will quickly reply: “To contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.”

The Early Programs

Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D., came to Moffitt as program leader for Psychosocial Oncology in 1994, just before the opening of the Moffitt Research Center in 1995. Originally built as the USF Eye Institute, the building later called Moffitt Research Center was given to the cancer center by the legislature to be used for its burgeoning research effort. The opening of the research center helped set the stage for achieving National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Status in 2001.

“From those early years, when Moffitt’s scientific programs were first established, up until now, prevention has played a prominent role in our mission,” Dr. Jacobsen says. “As the cancer center’s research programs continued to develop and expand, the importance of cancer prevention was never underestimated.”

By 1996, Moffitt had four active research programs: Molecular Oncology, Immunology, Experimental Therapeutics and Cancer Control. The Cancer Control Program had the prevention of cancer at its heart. Early on, Moffitt’s community-based public health interventions under the program were aimed at translating increasing knowledge about cancer prevention into effective prevention activities. By the turn of the millennium, cancer prevention efforts continued and even picked up speed, thanks in large part to the discovery of molecular and genetic markers of cancer susceptibility, screening interventions that could lead to prevention, community education and outreach, and efforts at tobacco control.

Population Science Applies Interdisciplinary Research

By 2002, the goals of the Cancer Control Program also focused on conducting interdisciplinary research to identify biological and genetic markers that could both predict increased cancer susceptibility and evaluate promising interventions directed at cancer prevention. By 2006, that program officially split into two programs under the Division of Cancer Control & Prevention. One is a multi-focused program called Health Outcomes and Behavior, originally led by Dr. Paul Jacobsen, with one of its goals being to gain a better understanding of and promote the behaviors that can lead to cancer prevention. The other program evolving from Cancer Control was Risk Assessment, Detection and Intervention (RADI), initially led by Anna Giuliano, Ph.D. RADI researchers evaluated genetic susceptibility factors and assessed individuals for hereditary cancer risk; identified molecular markers important in the early detection of cancer; designed, optimized, and evaluated computer-aided detection for cancer risk assessment and early detection; and enrolled high-risk individuals in scientifically valid randomized trials designed to reduce their cancer risk. In 2012, RADI was renamed Cancer Epidemiology.

The goal of the Cancer Epidemiology Program, now led by Peter Kanetsky, Ph.D., is to contribute to a reduction in the cancer burden through better knowledge of the etiology of the disease and translation of that knowledge into effective early detection and prevention interventions. Currently, both Health Outcomes and Behavior and Cancer Epidemiology fall under the Division of Population Science, led by Dr. Jacobsen.

“The Division of Population Science conducts research along the continuum of cancer prevention, with a focus on exposures such as genetic susceptibility, infections and lifestyle factors,” Dr. Jacobsen says. “The active portfolio of research studies includes clinical trials to determine the efficacy of vaccines for preventing cancer and novel approaches for preventing smoking relapse, as well as community-based studies to promote cancer screening especially in medically underserved populations.”