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Cancer Risk Reduction investigators

Jaime Booth, PhD, MSW
Cathedral of Learning , 2229
4200 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-624-8216
Lora Burke, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
School of Nursing
415 Victoria Building 3500 Victoria St
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-624-2305
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Dietary adherence
  • vegetarian diet in weight loss
  • binge-eating
  • obesity
My research examines the efficacy of behavioral interventions to improve adherence to obesity treatment modalities using diet and exercise, e.g., adherence to a cholesterol-lowering eating plan. My interests also include self-efficacy theory, as it is used as a theoretical basis for interventions as well as measurement of the construct.
Cynthia Conklin, PhD
Brian Davis, PhD
Biomedical Science Tower
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-648-9745
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Pain management
  • signal transduction
  • growth factors
Pathological changes in sensory neurons is thought to contribute to chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia, neuropathic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), pancreatitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and cancer. In addition to producing debilitating pain sensations, hyperactive sensory neurons can release bioactive peptides that further exacerbate disease. Research in the Davis laboratory focuses on the role of growth factors in the development and adult plasticity of the central and peripheral nervous system. This work is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Kathryn Albers (Department of Medicine), who has created lines of transgenic mice overexpressing specific growth factors; and Dr. H. Richard Koerber (Department of Neurobiology), who is examining plasticity of second-order spinal cord neurons. Currently, Dr. Davis's research is focused on somatic and visceral pain and growth factors of the NGF and GDNF families. Specifically, he has found that these growth factors (that are required for embryonic development of primary afferents) are upregulated in models of chronic pain. The lab also has strong evidence that this upregulation directly contributes to the development of persistent pain states. The goal of this research is to determine how these changes contribute to the development of chronic pain, with an emphasis on the transcriptional events and downstream signaling that controls the response properties of sensory neurons. This information may lead to identification of new targets that could be the basis of novel therapies for chronic somatic and visceral pain.
Natacha DeGenna, PhD
Michele Levine
Linda Robertson, RN, MSN, DrPH
5150 Centre Avenue
POB2 Cancer Pavillion, Room 438
Pittsburgh PA
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Community-based research
  • decision making
  • health equity
  • cancer care disparities
  • cancer vaccines
  • HPV knowledge and vaccine uptake
  • underserved communities
  • cancer prevention
  • early detection

My research interests include health care equity/disparities and decision making, primarily focused on cancer prevention and early detection. I also have a strong interest in vaccine uptake as it relates to the individual decision-making process, as well as outreach efforts. My efforts are largely focused in working with underserved individuals and communities, using a community-based participatory research approach. I received the University Center for Social and Urban Research Steven Manners Faculty Development Award for a pilot study, 'Social Stressors, Air Pollution, and Cancer in Allegheny County' and am the local PI on a funded R01, 'Accountability for Cancer Care through Undoing Racism and Equity (ACCURE).'

Lindsay Sabik, PhD
A613 Crabtree Hall
130 De Soto St.
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-624-0273
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Healthcare access
  • health outcomes
  • cancer care
  • underserved populations
  • health economics
  • cancer screening
Dr. Sabik is a health economist and health services researcher focused on investigating the role of state and federal policies in affecting healthcare access, utilization, and health outcomes among low-income populations, with a particular focus on cancer care for underserved populations. She is currently principal investigator on a project funded by the National Cancer Institute investigating the role of Medicaid policy in breast and cervical cancer screening for low-income women and disparities in screening and outcomes. In addition, she is PI on a Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society to study the impact of state health reform on breast and colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment. She has also served as an investigator on a number of foundation-funded projects evaluating Medicaid policies and programs at the state and national levels and investigating issues related to the role of the healthcare safety net.
Michael Sayette, PhD
4303 Sennott Square
Pittsburgh PA
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Psychology of addiction
  • alcohol use and abuse
  • cigarette smoking
  • drug craving
Dr. Sayette's research focuses on psychological theories of alcohol use and abuse, cigarette smoking, and drug craving, and on cognitive, affective, and social processes in addiction.
William Shadel, PhD
RAND Corporation
4570 Fifth Ave. Suite 600
Pittsburgh PA
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Biopsychosocial mechanisms that contribute to smoking initiation and cessation
  • cognitive-behavioral and pharmacological smoking cessation interventions
Dr. Shadel's research ranges from basic human laboratory work designed to understand the biopsychosocial mechanisms that contribute to smoking initiation and cessation, to the evaluation of cognitive-behavioral and pharmacological smoking cessation interventions in the clinic and public health settings. He has been continuously funded as a principal investigator by the National Cancer Institute and National Institute on Drug Abuse since 1999. Dr. Shadel's current grants examine how tobacco advertising contributes to adolescent smoking behavior, and the psychosocial mechanisms that underlie relapse in adult smokers.
Alan Sved
Dana Bovbjerg, PhD
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
Hillman Cancer Center 5115 Centre Avenue, Suite 140
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-623-7771
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Biobehavioral factors in cancer
  • cancer risk
  • cancer screening
  • cancer diagnosis
  • psychological factors in cancer
  • smoking behavior

Interdisciplinary studies of: biobehavioral factors in cancer; the emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and biological consequences of breast cancer risk; the contribution of biobehavioral factors to side effects of medical treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy) and interventions that may ameliorate those effects; interactions between psychological and genetic factors in persistent smoking behavior; and, psychological influences on cancer screening decisions.

Kar-Hai Chu, PhD
Yvette Conley
Phone: 412-383-7641

Dr. Conley’s research interests are in the field of molecular genetics. She has a fully equipped molecular genomics laboratory located within the School of Nursing, and her lab is involved with several research projects. Her current research focuses on genomic and epigenomic studies of patient outcomes after traumatic brain injury, stroke, and therapeutic interventions for cancer, as well as genomic studies of age-related macular degeneration.

Esa Davis, MD, MPH, FAAFP
Phone: (412) 692-4862
Michael Dunbar, PhD
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Tobacco and smoking
Frank Jenkins, PhD
G.17 Hillman Cancer Center
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-623-3233
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Human herpesvirus 8
  • HHV-8
  • KSHV
  • Kaposi's sarcoma
  • prostate cancer
  • herpesviruses
  • biobehavioral stress

Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), or HHV-8, is a member of the human herpesvirus family whose DNA sequences have been found in samples of Kaposi's sarcoma (KS). A number of projects in our laboratory are focused on the prevalence of KSHV infection in various cohorts and populations. We are particularly interested in the serological association of KSHV with human prostate cancer and are investigating at a molecular level, potential roles for KSHV in progression and maintenance of this cancer. We are also exploring the events during primary KSHV infection, including interactions between the virus and cell membrane, modulation of host gene synthesis, and establishment of viral infection. My lab has also been involved for several years in biobehavioral medicine. Specifically, we are interested in the role of stress and stress hormones in disease pathogenesis. Our current studies involve how stress hormones affect individual cells, the types of damage they may inflict on these cells and the outcomes of these interactions.

Kenneth Perkins, PhD
3811 O'Hara Street
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-246-5397
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Nicotine dependence
  • smoking cessation
  • tobacco use
Dr. Perkins is author or co-author of over 200 publications, primarily on behavioral aspects of nicotine or tobacco smoking. Among his ongoing projects, one focuses on nicotine's effects in enhancing reinforcement from various non-drug rewards that are independent of nicotine intake, which has been demonstrated by others in animal models, but only recently shown in humans by Dr. Perkins. This reinforcement enhancing effect is separate from nicotine's well-known primary and secondary reinforcing effects. In another recent project, an efficient procedure for screening novel medications to treat tobacco dependence was developed and validated (i.e., FDA early phase 2). This project continues, as the procedure is now being used for its ultimate purpose, to evaluate efficacy for cessation in new compounds, and it may be applicable to screening novel medications to treat other drug dependence problems. A third, newer project aims to determine the lowest dose of nicotine via cigarettes that can be discriminated (i.e., perceived) from placebo, which could help inform public policy on tobacco regulation. Other ongoing research interests include individual differences in the pharmacological and non-pharmacological factors that promote smoking, and environmental factors that moderate responses to nicotine or cigarette smoking.
Margaret Rosenzweig, PhD, CRNP-C, AOCN
School of Nursing
336 Victoria Building 3500 Victoria Street
Pittsburgh PA
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Women's cancer
  • cancer education
  • cancer survivorship
  • metastatic breast cancer
  • electronic symptom assessment
  • minority cancer
My program of research seeks to better understand cancer illness to inform interventions directed towards educating and supporting patients with breast cancer, in order to empower them in obtaining optimal health care. My research career first included exploration of metastatic breast cancer experience according to race and income. I then received six additional extramural grant awards as principal investigator, which supported preliminary descriptive studies that culminated in the development of a psycho-educational intervention for the unique educational and supportive needs of African American women diagnosed with cancer and for women with newly diagnosed metastatic breast cancer. Specifically, each of these studies explores the impact that biobehavioral and psychosocial factors have on the cancer patient and how approaches and interventions can be tailored to improve the illness experience.
Jami Saloman, PhD
University of Pittsburgh, E1457 Biomedical Science Tower
200 Lothrop St.
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: (412) 383-5120
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Contribution of nerves to tumorigenesis
  • Cancer-related neuropathy
  • Neuro-immune interactions in cancer
  • Pancreas Cancer
Nicole Scheff, PhD
Hillman Cancer Center Research Pavilion
5117 Centre Ave, Suite 1.19F
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-623-7871
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • cancer-related pain
  • cancer neurobiology
  • neuro-immune interactions
  • head and neck cancer

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) causes severe pain, increased stress, and reduced quality of life, which exceeds the levels seen in other cancers. Development of improved non-opioid therapies will likely be hastened with an increased understanding of underlying mechanisms driving cancer pain. Beyond sensory/pain signaling, the peripheral nervous system has been identified as a component of the cancer microenvironment and may be involved in modulating tumor progression and tumor-associated immunity. The cancer microenvironment is comprised of stromal cells, glial cells, immune cells, neurons (e.g., motor, sensory, sympathetic) and proliferating tumor cells. The Scheff lab seeks to integrate the neurobiology, cancer biology, and immunology fields in order to fully appreciate neural-immune-cancer communication. The goal of our research is to understand plasticity in peripheral neurons associated with cancer and to investigate whether therapy targeted to neurons in the cancer microenvironment can alleviate pain and slow carcinogenesis. The lab executes translational research through collection of patient-reported outcomes and clinical specimens as well as implementation of molecular, electrophysiological and behavioral studies in preclinical mouse models.

Saul Shiffman, PhD
130 N. Bellefield Avenue
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-383-2051
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Tobacco
  • smoking
  • dependence
  • smoking cessation
Dr. Shiffman's research focuses on tobacco use and nicotine dependence and their development, the nicotine withdrawal syndrome, smoking relapse, behavioral and pharmacological treatment for smoking, and tobacco control. Dr. Shiffman is currently conducting two trials, both focused on non-daily smokers, who are a substantial and growing fraction of adult smokers. The first study focuses on assessing the effects of switching to very low nicotine content cigarettes (VLNCCs) among intermittent smokers (ITS). This is a two-arm randomized study with an own-cigarette baseline control. After a 2-week baseline period smoking their own cigarettes, ITS will be randomized for 10 weeks to smoke experimental cigarettes, either (a) normal nicotine content cigarettes, or VLNCCs. Change in cigarette consumption is the primary end-point, and biomarkers of smoke exposure and measures of smoking intensity are also assessed. The second study focuses on the effect of as-needed oral Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) for smoking cessation in ITS, and to study the process of relapse in ITS, using Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA). Reviews of ITS have called for research on ITS' relapse process, and for evaluation of cessation methods, including medications, among ITS. This will be a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of oral NRT for smoking cessation in ITS. EMA data collection includes two weeks of baseline data on ad lib smoking patterns and 6 weeks of post-quit data, using methods we successfully fielded in our previous research. This will capture data on craving, withdrawal, and relapse among ITS, and relate relapse contexts to baseline smoking patterns.
Elizabeth Venditti, PhD
100 N. Bellefield Ave., Suite 830
Pittsburgh PA
Phone: 412-647-5200
Research Interests and Keywords:
  • Behavioral medicine
  • health psychology
  • obesity
  • lifestyle intervention
My obesity management and disease prevention experiences encompass several clinical (university-based and private psychology practice), research (NIH clinical trials and translational studies) and training (developing/mentoring diverse practitioners and programs in the community) roles. Most of my work involves the design and pragmatic application of evidence-based lifestyle behavior change interventions as a roadmap for more widespread dissemination of disease prevention programs to benefit public health. I serve as Principal Investigator (PI) in the multi-site longitudinal follow-up of the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study (DPPOS) cohort to examine: 1) the effectiveness of early metformin treatment (initiated during pre-diabetes) on the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer; 2) the longer term impact of the intensive lifestyle treatment, continued (in less intensive form) during DPPOS; and 3) the clinical course of dysglycemia, associated metabolic abnormalities, and the development of long term disease outcomes among all randomized treatment groups.