Edward Giovannucci, Harvard scientist

Ed started out as a pathologist and now works at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US

How did you get into cancer research? 

I went to medical school and studied pathology [the study and diagnosis of disease]. Usually as a pathologist, you tend to see the cancer after it is diagnosed. I became interested in preventing it rather than just diagnosing it. I was not initially interested in nutrition but I took some courses after medical school when I was doing a master’s in public health and realised the great potential for cancer prevention. I dedicated the rest of my career to studying cancer epidemiology [a scientific method used to find the causes of health and disease in populations], especially dietary aspects.

Do you wear a lab coat?

No lab coat! My research is based on large populations rather than on basic laboratory approaches. The laboratory studies, however, are important and do inform our research. We do dietary surveys, and collect biologic specimens such as blood samples on hundreds of thousands of people. Our aim is to discover factors, especially nutritional, that may increase or lower cancer risk.

What part of your career are you most proud of?

I'm actually most proud of the mentoring part of my career. I meet so many bright, young, dedicated public health researchers who can figure out complex issues. I just provide a little guidance and perspective. The only reason people go into cancer prevention research is that the work is interesting and the goals are to help people by lowering the risk of cancer. A Harvard dean once said, among the various degrees one can obtain at Harvard, the only one that will lower your earning potential is one in public health. To be surrounded by people who make this decision makes work a pleasure.

When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

Well, I really wanted to be a professional athlete, but I knew I had no chance of this. I grew up in a working class neighbourhood, and my parents encouraged me to do something that required book learning. I found science and medicine interesting, though I really did not have much science exposure until high school. There, I found the science courses, especially biology, fascinating.

Did you ever set fire/make anything explode in science lessons at school?

Fortunately, I did not cause explosions or fires in science lessons, but I did drop a lot of things. I was not handy in the lab, nor in the kitchen my wife would add. I work mostly with a computer. I can't always figure it out but at least it doesn't explode.

Thank you from Ed

Edward Giovannucci, WCRF researcherThrough your donations, World Cancer Research Fund has funded a major project to help me research the different ways in which the proportion of potentially preventable cancers is estimated. You can read more about it on World Cancer Research Fund's International website:

An examination of the methods for assessing preventability of cancer