Prof recognized for cancer work

By Lisa Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 17, 2004

A UA cancer researcher will receive international recognition in October for his work on skin and colon cancer prevention.

Dr. David Alberts, director of Cancer Prevention and Control for the Arizona Cancer Center, will receive the Third Annual Award for Excellence in Cancer Prevention Research from the American Association for Cancer Research.

Alberts, a professor for the UA College of Medicine and member of the Arizona Board of Regents, will present a lecture about preventing skin and colon cancer when he receives the award at a convention in Seattle, Oct. 16-20.

"I was absolutely shocked, because there are literally thousands of candidates," Alberts said.

"Cancer research is a growing field, and for Dr. Alberts to have been chosen is significant, and it reflects on his contributions to the field," said Liz Tate, in the AACR communications department.

"I never expected to be honored this way. I'm just a blue-collar worker - my mom would really be proud," Alberts said.

Alberts said the blue-collar label stems from the fact that he's worked 60 hours per week for 35 years, and that he's always had a strong work ethic. Alberts said his daily routine includes teaching, patient care, and clinical and laboratory research.

"I get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed around midnight. It's beyond 'workoholism' because I have a real personal interest in cancer," Alberts said.

Alberts said he was inspired to treat and research cancer at an early age after experiencing several deaths in the family from colon and breast cancer.

The award is intended for a scientist who maintains an active research program and has a record of recent publications.

Alberts was nominated by gastroenterologist Dr. Peter Lance, who has worked with him on colon cancer research.

"Dr. Alberts is quite rightly known internationally for his own contributions toward cancer research in developing new cancer treatments, and he is leading the field in understanding better who is at greatest risk," Lance said.

Alberts said he won the award because his department has produced multiple cancer prevention drugs for skin and colon cancer, including the product melanotan, a chemical tanning agent.

Melanotan is 1,000 times more potent than the chemicals found in sunscreen. Since its development, the UA has licensed the product to a company in Australia.

Alberts and the ACC work on several drugs that will not only block sunrays, but also reverse the damage of overexposure.

"This is not so much an acknowledgement of my personal work, but of the outstanding research expertise of our cancer prevention and control faculty within the Arizona Cancer Center," Alberts said.

In addition to research, he works one-on-one to train UA students in classrooms and laboratories.

"Students are vital to everything we do. There is no better training ground than the laboratory," Alberts said.

Alberts is optimistic about the ACC's future discoveries in cancer prevention.

"We are going to prevent skin and colon cancer in my lifetime," Alberts said.