eagle-i University of Hawaii at ManoaUniversity of Hawaii at Manoa
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Kolonel, Laurence

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    My research interests during many years have centered on understanding the striking variations in cancer incidence and survival that are observed among the several different ethnic populations in Hawai‘i. This work began in the mid-1970's when I joined the newly formed epidemiology research program at the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center. We felt that important clues to cancer etiology might emerge from epidemiologic studies in this unique environment. In early studies of changing cancer risks among migrant populations, we showed that incidence rates in first generation migrants from Japan and the U.S. mainland were often remarkably higher (or lower) than the prevailing rates in their place of origin. Moreover, these changes were progressive from the first to the second generation (born in Hawai‘i). These findings added considerable weight to the premise that most cancers are environmentally determined. Accordingly, we concentrated much of our subsequent research on the role of lifestyle variables in the etiology of cancer, with a particular emphasis on nutritional factors. Several early ecologic and case-control studies in this unique population setting helped establish the importance of diet and nutrition in cancer etiology (e.g., Br J Cancer 1981;44:332-39; Int J Cancer 1983;32:727-32; Am J Epidemiol 1984;119:227-37; J Natl Cancer Inst 1987;78:595-600; Cancer Res 1987;47:2982-5; Am J Epidemiol 1988;127:999-1012). Despite the encouraging results of many of these studies, we found that even known risk factors for certain cancers, such as cigarette smoking for lung cancer, could not fully account for the observed differences in incidence among the several ethnic groups in Hawai‘i. Furthermore, some of the changes in risk we observed among migrants were greater than one would have expected from lifestyle alterations alone. To further our research on diet, nutrition and cancer, and to better explore some of these anomalous findings, we established a large multiethnic cohort in 1993-1996 for long-term follow-up (Kolonel et al. Am J Epidemiol 2000;151: 346-357). To enhance the value of this research, we included ethnic groups from California (African-Americans, and Latinos) as well as from Hawai‘i (Japanese-Americans, whites, and Native Hawai‘ians). The cohort includes more than 215,000 participants of both sexes, on whom extensive baseline questionnaire data have been collected, including a detailed quantitative dietary history. In addition, biological specimens have been collected from approximately 70,000 cohort participants to form a unique biorepository of blood and urine samples. Most of our current research is utilizing this cohort resource. The work is multidisciplinary, and includes a substantial molecular epidemiology component. In the Multiethnic Cohort, we are examining the relationship of dietary variables, such as flavonoids, to the risk of cancer of several sites across different ethnic groups. We are also examining genetic markers of susceptibility and other molecular markers of diet and nutrition for their impact on cancer risk. The interaction of dietary exposures with genetic susceptibility in determining cancer risk is a major goal of the research. We are also engaged in several genome-wide association studies (GWAS), each focusing on a distinct ethnic population. We feel that the potential for understanding the etiology of cancer through studies of ethnic and migrant populations has never been greater.
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