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January 21, 2011 | 4 minute read

In Memoriam: Arthur Schatzkin, Pioneer of Nutrition-Cancer Science

All of us at AICR are greatly saddened to hear of the passing of our longtime friend and esteemed colleague Arthur Schatzkin, MD, DrPH.

Arthur’s eloquent and passionate commitment to the study of nutrition’s role in cancer development was, and remains, an inspiration. He was internationally known for work that greatly expanded the boundaries of scientific knowledge in his field; he improved the methods we use to gather information and he produced data that will continue to inform public health efforts for years to come.

Here at AICR, we are particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to work so closely with Arthur. He served as a member of the expert panel that produced the 2007 AICR/WCRF expert report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. This landmark report reviewed thousands of scientific studies on diet, physical activity, weight and cancer risk, weighed the collected evidence and issued Recommendations for Cancer Prevention which are cited by researchers, clinicians and policy makers throughout the world.  Arthur also served as a panel member on our Continuous Update Project, which is tasked with reviewing new evidence and continuously reevaluating our recommendations to ensure they remain current.

Arthur was deeply engaged with the long and demanding processes of reviewing data, forming consensus and drafting recommendations for our expert report and the continuous update; his knowledge, intellect — and wit — were invaluable.

Arthur was a friend to AICR back when the notion that a healthy lifestyle could lower cancer risk was considered “fringe.”  Today that once-radical notion has become accepted medical fact, thanks to pioneers like Arthur Schatzkin.

We are grateful for his contributions.

After the jump: The statement released by the National Cancer Institute, where Arthur served as Chief of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics.

It is with great sadness that we share the news that our dear friend and colleague, Arthur Schatzkin, passed away on January 20, 2011 from cancer. Arthur was an internationally renowned pioneer in the field of nutrition and cancer.  He came to NCI in 1984, and since 1999 served as the Chief of the Nutritional Epidemiology Branch (NEB) in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG).  Throughout his career, Arthur was an outstanding scientist, mentor, and leader in the field of nutritional epidemiology. He was a gifted public speaker and a man of personal and professional integrity who cared deeply about the impact of his work on public health.

Arthur was committed to understanding the role of nutrition in cancer etiology and prevention. Early in his career, he was the first to describe an association between moderate alcohol intake and breast cancer risk. He then turned his attention to the role of diet in preventing colorectal cancer. He led the landmark NCI Polyp Prevention Trial, a 4-year randomized trial which successfully achieved a low-fat, high-fiber diet and then showed that this intervention, contrary to the prevailing hypothesis, had no effect on adenoma recurrence.

Arthur addressed major issues in nutritional epidemiology, including two major methodologic limitations: the limited range of reported dietary intake in cohort studies and the measurement error associated with self-reported dietary assessment.  To address the first issue, Arthur launched the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, at the time the largest-ever prospective cohort study. Research from this long-term investigation of approximately 500,000 men and women has produced over 100 original scientific papers and is a prized resource for a multitude of investigators worldwide.  To address the complex issue of dietary measurement error, Arthur played a key role in the Observing Protein and Energy Nutrition (OPEN) biomarker study. He also actively supported the development of new web-based methods to measure diet, physical activity, and energy balance. Arthur published over 300 original research articles. In 2007, he participated on the international expert panel convened by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research to report on the current evidence regarding food, nutrition, physical activity, and cancer.

Throughout his career, Arthur was dedicated to the advancement of nutritional epidemiology and the mentoring of young scientists.  Arthur built a training ground for the next generation of nutritional epidemiologists. During his 11 years as Branch Chief, the NEB grew from two investigators to a large and successful team of over 20 scientists. His leadership and enthusiasm inspired a passion in trainees and senior scientists alike. Arthur had great personal warmth and humor, tremendous intellectual curiosity and honesty, a genuine interest in all, and a passion for improving public health through exemplary science. He fundamentally understood the importance of his work in the minds of average citizens, and he steadfastly supported the responsible dissemination of his findings to the American public. Even beyond his diagnosis, Arthur remained committed to the branch. He remained involved in research planning, mentoring, and senior scientific discussions. He will be deeply missed.

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