The American Institute for Cancer Research has a new Director of Research, Nigel Brockton, PhD, and we’re looking forward to all the expertise he brings.
Dr. Brockton has first-hand experience with cancer, being diagnosed in his final year of high school and then his cancer returned while an undergraduate studying marine biology in Scotland. He then shifted to cancer research, graduating with a PhD in genetic epidemiology. Here, Dr. Brockton shares his passion for the field of cancer prevention and survivorship, along with how AICR has intertwined with his work.
1. Why did you go into cancer research?
I was diagnosed with a Ewing’s sarcoma in 1989, when I was 18 years old; I had surgery and then chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it recurred in 1992. All of this was long before the Internet or even before the availability of lay person-accessible books that could provide some insights into what I was dealing with. I was studying Marine Biology at University so I had access to medical journals; my early “research” was purely about satisfying my own curiosity about my own circumstances. By the end of my degree I had decided that cancer research was my future and that marine biology would be recreational.
2. In your research you investigated inflammation, lifestyle and cancer – can you talk a little about your work?
My research largely focused on the impact of lifestyle factors, micronutrients and over the counter medications on the spread of cancer and survival. One of the main mechanisms by which many of AICR Recommendations for Cancer Prevention work is by reducing chronic inflammation. There may be additional factors that could be recommended to patients to maximize their chances of successful treatment and remaining cancer free after a diagnosis of cancer. I hope that the research that I established, and remain involved with, will help us answer some of those questions and help cancer patients make the most informed choices.
3. How does being a cancer survivor affect your work, your everyday life?
Cancer is intertwined with almost every aspect of my life. I have a love-hate relationship with cancer; I love the opportunities that it has provided for me but I hate the pain to which so many are subjected. Cancer directed me towards a rewarding career in which I believe I can make a real difference to people’s lives while satisfying my own intense curiosity. Cancer has given me a perspective that enables me to help other cancer patients, survivors and even those at risk (that’s all of us, by the way!)
“Cancer directed me towards a rewarding career in which I believe I can make a real difference to people’s lives while satisfying my own intense curiosity.”
The downsides are some of the late effects of the treatments that I received. However, the steps that I take to minimize those effects are beneficial in reducing my risks of many common chronic diseases, so I like to think that, overall, I’m pretty healthy!
4. What attracted you to AICR and what do you hope to achieve here?
AICR has been a constant feature in my research career and life. The first AICR/WCRF expert report came out in 1997 as I was starting my PhD in a closely related field, in Scotland. Then the second expert report was released soon after I started my independent research career in Canada. Now, I am here at AICR with the much anticipated third expert Report scheduled for release next year.
AICR embodies so much of what I believe in and hope to accomplish. We have the power to influence our cancer risks and outcomes. But there is so much still to learn and to tease out from existing research. New research is essential but we also need to extract maximum value out of existing and current research through building and expanding collaborative efforts.
“AICR embodies so much of what I believe in and hope to accomplish. We have the power to influence our cancer risks and outcomes.”
AICR/WCRF has an incredible network of world-renowned researchers; my goal is to harness and enhance our network to ensure the most valuable research is funded and the best evidence is incorporated into our cancer prevention and survivorship recommendations.
5. You’re a former champion speed skier and now an avid cyclist, are there other ways that you currently live the cancer-prevention message?
I don’t want to seem too sanctimonious but I have been living the AICR recommendations for many years now! I have always been active but my adoption of the recommendations probably became more deliberate when my first child was born. However, I am a great believer in moderation and variety; it is OK to have the odd “lapse” if your habits are predominantly good – but I believe that the key is to make the recommendations your established habits.
“I have always been active but my adoption of the recommendations probably became more deliberate when my first child was born. .”
6. What’s something else you want people to know about you?
I have an 11 year old son and an 8 year old daughter; I hope that I am instilling a foundation of healthy habits in their lives, not because they feel that they have to but because they genuinely prefer those healthier options.
You can connect with Dr. Nigel Brockton on twitter @DrBrockton_AICR.