Thomas Becker, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair of the OHSU Department of Public Health, has been appointed as the first Charles R. and Velma E. Sharp Endowed Professor at the OHSU School of Medicine.
The establishment of this professorship was made possible through the visionary generosity of Dr. Charles and Velma Sharp who included OHSU in their estate plans. At the family’s request the first holder of the Sharp Endowed Professorship (login required) will focus his efforts in an area of cancer research that includes prevention or outreach, thus reflecting Dr. Sharp’s values of battling a grave disease in the public health arena. Also in keeping with the Sharp family’s wishes, Dr. Becker will focus on a type of cancer work “outside of those cancer efforts most highly publicized in the media” and which are funded through high profile events.
Knight News (login required) spoke recently with Dr. Becker about his new appointment.
Q&A With Thomas Becker, MD, PhD
Congratulations on your appointment! What does becoming the Sharp Endowed Professor mean to you?
I am very honored to be the first recipient of the Charles and Velma Sharp Endowed Professorship. I hope that I can live up to the high standards that Dr. Sharp demonstrated as a family physician with a strong emphasis on disease prevention, particularly as related to cancer. From information I have been provided, Dr. Sharp set a very high standard and can serve as a role model for all physicians who are interested in cancer prevention.
You have always been such a wonderful advocate for under-served populations, especially Native Americans. One of the goals set by the Sharp family for this professorship is to “focus on advancements in the practice of public health, prevention or family medicine.” Can you talk about how you aim to accomplish that goal?
I hope to remain involved in prevention research efforts in tribal, and in other American Indian and Polynesian communities. As director of the CDC-funded Prevention Research Center—the Center for Healthy Communities—I have worked on a variety of research efforts focused on disease prevention. My team members include a terrific group of researchers and staff, and my departmental faculty and colleagues at the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board have been very supportive of the Center’s efforts. One of the current prevention projects is focused on colorectal cancer screening education, and primarily involves the input and expertise of several American Indian researchers at the Board. Further steps toward advancement of public health and prevention will occur through new grant applications that we will write this year and throughout the duration of the professorship. Despite the poor grant funding climate, I trust that our efforts will strike gold so that we can address additional challenges in minority and under-served population health.
What else do you want to do as the Sharp Endowed Professor?
I would like to become more involved in the cancer prevention and control efforts at the Knight Cancer Institute, working closely with Dr. Patty Carney and other excellent cancer prevention and control researchers based at the Knight. We at OHSU have some really brilliant minds engaged in this arena, and a cadre of very productive researchers in cancer prevention who are accomplishing impressive work on various site-specific neoplasms. I also hope to continue assisting Kerri Lopez and Eric Vinson with their Northwest Tribal Comprehensive Cancer Control program. I propose to continue my thrust in community cancer education through the Indian Health Board, will develop and implement a new cancer prevention and control course for Indian researchers through our Summer Research Training Institute for American Indian and Alaska Native health professionals, and will write a new grant on cancer education for tribal people. I have been asked to head the search committee to hire a new molecular epidemiologist/geneticist who will be based at the Knight Cancer Institute. I will continue the Prevention Research Center’s activities in prevention of other chronic diseases, as well. There is no shortage of challenges in public health and we need to develop and test cutting-edge strategies to elevate the health of our population/s in Oregon and in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, I will continue to run our graduate training scholarship program for American Indian and Alaska Native trainees…many of whom are involved in cancer studies. That grant has a mentoring component that I also enjoy. The National Cancer Institute has just invited me to be on their external advisory group for the Cancer Community Network Program, a large effort that is community-focused in multiple locations nationwide. I am happy to help them in this effort.
I am flattered to be given this award and hope to live up to the expectations of Dr. and Mrs. Sharp and their family members who made this award possible.
Knight Director Brian Druker, MD, on Dr. Becker:
This gift and Dr. Becker’s appointment enhance the Knight Cancer Institute’s mission of continuing our groundbreaking work in the realm of personalized cancer medicine and care, learning more about what causes cancer and how it can be stopped, reducing Oregon’s cancer death rates to the lowest in the country by bringing the best in cancer prevention and care to every Oregon community, and in doing so shape the way cancer is treated throughout the nation.
Both Dean Richardson and I agree that the Sharp Professorship is a valuable addition to the School of Medicine and the Knight Cancer Institute. By focusing on prevention, public outreach and screenings the Sharp Professorship will enable us to provide Oregonians with important and up to date information on a broader spectrum of cancers.
I hope everyone will join me in congratulating Dr. Becker on this appointment.