Understanding Environmental Impacts on Cancer Risks

The Center for Precision Environmental Health will tie many of Baylor’s programs and strengths together to leverage them, and I look forward to seeing where its development takes us in cancer research and understanding of how the environment impacts our risk and genetic profile.
--Dr. Cheryl Walker

All of the pieces for the Center for Precision Environmental Health were there – the Human Genome Sequencing Center, cancer research through the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, computational biology and microbiome research – but there was a lack of an environmentally-focused entity to tie them all together to accomplish something greater.

Dr. Cheryl Walker joined the Baylor College of Medicine and Dan L Duncan faculty in the summer of 2016 to spearhead and develop the Center for Precision Environmental Health, which focuses on the relationship among genes, environmental exposures that may lead to disease development, and big data, with an overall objective to pair the right drug with the right patient to treat the right disease.

“There is a lot of information and knowledge to be gained from big data. To find it, you need to use computational biology, and we hope the knowledge hidden within the data will lead us to a greater understanding of disease prevention, such as cancer, by looking at individual risk and appreciating the importance of the gene environment and the role it plays,” said Walker.

The Center for Precision Environmental Health will study the critical exposures people face early on in life, as tissues are developing, to better understand human susceptibility to environmental factors at a young age and how these factors impact the genes associated with causing cancer, before the cancer manifests itself later in life.

“The Center for Precision Environmental Health will tie many of Baylor’s programs and strengths together to leverage them, and I look forward to seeing where its development takes us in cancer research and understanding of how the environment impacts our risk and genetic profile,” said Walker.

Not only does the Center for Precision Environmental Health advance the efforts of the Cancer Center as a whole, but it also works closely with its Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences program.

“Dr. Walker’s work provides us with valuable insight into how the environment affects our cancer risk, and how those factors change by population or demographic. Her research will enable us to dig deeper into how we can begin to prevent cancer at a young age, before any symptoms begin to present themselves,” said Dr. Melissa Bondy, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences program. •