Harvard Public Health Review Winter 2007
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Best of the Best, 2007 Alumni Award of Merit Winners

Myron Allukian Jr., MPH67
Timio Hirohata, SM '65, SD '68

Has led major studies of disease patterns in migrating populations that undergo dramatic lifestyle changes, in addition to research on risk factors for breast, stomach, and liver cancer

Distinguished Service Award for Occupational Medicine, Ministry of Labor, Japan; Distinguished Service Award, Japan Epidemiological Association; fellow, Royal Society of Medicine, U.K.

Research supervisor, Radiation Effects Research Foundation; Director, Fukuoka Tuberculosis Association

In November 2007, will unveil in London and Washington, D.C., an update of the 1997 inter-national report on nutrition and cancer he co-authored

Japan's Cancer Prevention Champion

Had Tomio Hirohata followed the path of his three siblings, he might have practiced medicine in his native Japan. Instead, after graduating from the Kyushu University Medical School in 1960, he traveled to Boston and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), convinced that it was wiser to prevent disease than to treat it. While earning master’s and doctoral degrees in epidemiology, a field largely unknown in his country, he won the esteem of a giant in the field, HSPH professor Brian MacMahon, whose textbook he would soon translate into Japanese.

Returning home, Hirohata joined the faculty at his former medical school to explore risk factors for cancer. Two years later, the United Nations tapped him to write a report on the link between cancer and ionizing radiation. Submitted to the U.N. General Assembly and published in 1972, this effort put Hirohata on the map: He became the first scientist to calculate cancer risk per unit dose of radiation, a feat that paved the way for setting international guidelines to limit human exposures. Today Hirohata continues to supervise research by an organization that for nearly half a century has studied lifetime cancer risk in close to 100,000 atomic bomb survivors.

Focus on Populations
Over the next three decades, Hirohata introduced Japan to the science of linking risk factors to cancers in large populations. An expert on breast, liver, and stomach cancer, he has written or contributed to 30 books and published 180 papers, including 50 review articles, which analyze studies worldwide concerning risk factors such as viruses or aspects of diet. With support from the World Cancer Research Fund, he and 14 collaborators distilled key findings from more than 4,500 research papers regarding nutrition’s impact on cancer.

Hirohata champions public health in a nation where, he says, “Preventive medicine is not well appreciated.” He cofounded and became first president of the Japan Epidemiological Association, and led the government’s task force on cancer epidemiology. Educating the public is also Hirohata’s mission. “People are confused about what they should believe,” he says. “There is need for a public health expert to give good guidance.” That’s why he helped develop a television program on cancer prevention, seen since 1997 by an estimated 10 million Japanese viewers.

Hirohata, who himself is fit and slender, warns that countries experiencing an obesity epidemic will suffer grave repercussions. In the United States, for example, where “portion sizes are huge,” he says that cutting out snacks, sweets, and liter-sized sodas would help Americans avoid overweight and its consequences, which include diabetes and heart disease.

A Community of Nations
After heading the Department of Epidemiology at the Cancer Center of Hawaii, then chairing the Department of Public Health of Kurume University, in Japan, Hirohata came full circle, holding the same post at his former medical school for many years, until 1995. But it has never been enough for him to lead research that informs public policy; community service, too, is central to his life. As part of Rotary International in Fukuoka, for which he is immediate past governor, he has sent students overseas to foster “international friendship and peace.” His group takes pride in sponsoring water-supply projects in Indonesia, building schools in Nepal, and supporting polio eradication throughout the developing world.

Hirohata’s work is far from finished. “I’m still young at heart,” he asserts with a smile.

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Karin Kiewra is editor of the Review and Associate Director of Development Communications at HSPH.

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