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Prevention: Investigator Profile

Annual Report - 2005-2006

Dreams in the Making

By Mary Jane Schier

David W. Wetter, Ph.D., believes dreams can come true. As the founding chair of the Department of Health Disparities Research, Wetter says he is fortunate to lead an interdisciplinary team aiming to help underserved populations who bear an unequal burden of cancer.

That his department is the first of its kind at any cancer center in the country illustrates the “remarkable vision, resources and collaboration,” which attracted him to M. D. Anderson in 1995. Since then, he has earned a broad reputation for research focused on tobacco cessation and health promotion among minorities and individuals living in poor socioeconomic conditions.

Wetter’s interest in health and wellness began as a boy participating in multiple sports. He was named an Academic All-American as a point guard on the basketball team at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., where he received a bachelor’s degree in economics. While completing a master’s in epidemiology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he concentrated on studying nicotine and alcohol dependence.

At M. D. Anderson, Wetter’s research has garnered extensive extramural support for tobacco-related studies that include biobehavioral theory testing in real-world settings, clinical trials evaluating new treatment approaches and population-based interventions. Currently, he’s principal investigator on six National Institutes of Health grants.

One of Wetter’s studies — Project MOM — is developing methods to help women who quit smoking while pregnant remain smoke-free. Project MOM includes a broad wellness program with strategies for women dealing with excess stress, weight management, depression and unemployment.

Looking ahead, Wetter notes that his expanding department is “addressing health disparities from the societal to the molecular levels, with a goal of creating an environment in which differences in health due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender and other factors cease to exist.”

He admits this is an ambitious goal. “But I know that if you can dream something, you can achieve it at M. D. Anderson.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center