New center for cancer prevention launched at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Plasma cell myeloma from bone marrow aspirate.

At the Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention, experts from multiple disciplines will work to reduce suffering and death from cancer worldwide

For immediate release: Monday, February 4, 2019

Boston, MA — An innovative new interdisciplinary center at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health will focus on education and research aimed at preventing people from getting cancer as well as improving early detection.

The Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention will encourage partnerships among those who understand the basic causes of cancer, those who build technologies that can be used to detect cancer early, and those who are trained to implement those strategies in local communities.

Timothy Rebbeck, Vincent L. Gregory, Jr. Professor of Cancer Prevention at Harvard Chan School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and associate director for equity and engagement at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, is director of the new center. He leads molecular epidemiology studies of cancer etiology, outcomes, health disparities, and global health. His work has led to an understanding of the genetic and environmental causes of breast, prostate, skin, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.

Rebbeck said the center’s creation represents exciting possibilities for the future of the field. “With its ability to attract world-class researchers and foster new types of interdisciplinary collaboration, the center has the potential to propel significant progress in reducing the cancer burden and improving human health around the globe,” he said. “It could forever change the ways cancer is prevented and diagnosed in the future.”

Cancer affects millions around the globe. In 2018, more than 18 million people worldwide were diagnosed with the disease, and nearly 10 million died from it. Roughly 44 million around the world are living with cancer, and it is now the leading cause of death in many parts of the world.

An aging population, the adoption of unhealthy lifestyles by people around the world, and environmental exposures linked with cancer are all expected to significantly increase the cancer burden in the coming decades, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. “An important consideration for the Zhu Family Center is to ensure that all people around the world—regardless of their income, education, race, orientation, and place of residence—can benefit from our state-of-the-art innovations,” said Rebbeck.

Research—much of which has taken place at Harvard Chan School—has shown that one-half to two-thirds of all cancer cases could be prevented if societies fully implemented currently available cancer-prevention strategies such as vaccinations against infection-related cancers, screenings such as mammography and colonoscopy, personal lifestyle changes, and avoiding exposure to environmental carcinogens.

To accelerate progress in prevention and early detection, the Zhu Family Center will:

  • Support groundbreaking research in cancer prevention and early detection, and accelerate the translation of that research into clinical practice and public health strategies
  • Foster the next generation of prevention and early-detection researchers, and develop new courses and other educational initiatives
  • Recruit world-class faculty who can lead cancer-prevention and early-detection research
  • Encourage innovative collaborations among experts from multiple disciplines, including academic researchers, physicians, and people from the worlds of technology, pharma, and philanthropy
  • Enhance prevention and early-detection networks and infrastructure; educate policymakers, public health practitioners, and health care providers to boost the impact of prevention and early-detection activities; and ensure that interventions are cost-effective and implementable within existing health systems

“I am thrilled that the Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention is housed here at the Harvard Chan School. We anticipate that solutions developed through the Center’s research may someday save countless lives across the globe and improve the quality of life for many more,” said Michelle Williams, Dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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Todd Datz

photo: iStock


Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health brings together dedicated experts from many disciplines to educate new generations of global health leaders and produce powerful ideas that improve the lives and health of people everywhere. As a community of leading scientists, educators, and students, we work together to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to people’s lives—not only making scientific breakthroughs, but also working to change individual behaviors, public policies, and health care practices. Each year, more than 400 faculty members at Harvard Chan School teach 1,000-plus full-time students from around the world and train thousands more through online and executive education courses. Founded in 1913 as the Harvard-MIT School of Health Officers, the School is recognized as America’s oldest professional training program in public health.