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Technology Meets Cancer Prevention

Annual Report - Winter 2011

(From left) Jermaine McMillan, Mark Evans, Randa El-Zein, M.D., Ph.D.
Photos: Wyatt McSpadden

McMillan's team streamlines information exchange

By Katrina Burton

Little did Jermaine McMillan know that his previous job as program coordinator of the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson — one of the most comprehensive and successful smoking cessation programs in the country — would sharpen his skills to direct a state-of-the-art service designed specifically for researchers.

In his new role as project director of e-Health Technology, funded by the Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment, McMillan and his team help 
MD Anderson scientists integrate technology into research projects to help people adopt more healthful lifestyles. 

Streamlining information exchange between researchers and study participants can improve effectiveness of interventions focusing on health behavior change.

Plenty of projects in the pipeline

“We have projects in our pipeline that range from a tool to capture information about a person’s exercise activity, mood or eating habits in real-time using smart phones, to a product that uses web-based tools to help people stop smoking,” he says.“The e-Health Technology resource is a new service that is proving to be invaluable to our researchers.”

As more proposals come in, McMillan, the technologically savvy partner, is constantly developing ways to aid researchers.

Evans helps patients say ‘no’ to nicotine

By Katrina Burton

In 2006, when Mark Evans saw one of the first patients in MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program, he never imagined that the program would become the model for smoking and tobacco cessation.

With more than 20 years of clinical and social work experience, Evans’ primary responsibilities in the program are to assess, evaluate and treat people for nicotine addiction.

This is no easy feat.

“Depending on the patient, the process may involve dealing with psychosocial issues like depression, anxiety and adjustment disorders, as well as behavioral, motivational and sometimes crisis counseling,” he says.

No patients left behind

An average day for him consists of meeting with patients in person or follow-up visits via telephone, as a large number of patients live outside the greater Houston area, sometimes on the other side of the world.

As patients come to the program through referrals made by employees, physicians or even themselves, Evans handles it all with a resilient and calm demeanor that implies “no patient left behind.”

When he’s not busy seeing patients, Evans also supervises master’s level counselors. “The beauty of what we do is so unusual. Not having to charge for these types of services make it invaluable to patients, employees and their families.”

El-Zein stresses importance of genetic markers

By Katrina Burton

Five minutes with Randa El-Zein, M.D., Ph.D., will change how you see yourself and those around you.

Associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology, she takes you on a virtual journey that makes you curious about genetic make-up and the characteristics that put some people at increased risk for developing cancer.

“We’re trying to identify genetic markers — either alone or when combined — that would indicate an increased cancer risk for certain people. We are also trying to determine what kinds of cancers those people are at risk for,” she says. “Of equal importance is what lifestyle changes are recommended to minimize or eliminate this risk.”

Studies gain attention

Her expertise in this area of research received national attention when she identified several inherited genetic traits that influence human sensitivity to different cancers such as lung and lymphomas. 

Published by the American Association for Cancer Research, her studies illustrate how certain biomarkers can detect genetic abnormalities and may predict future cancer risks.

Other research conducted in her laboratory focuses on understanding the underlying mechanisms associated with both exposure to environmental carcinogens and the different ways to prevent the harmful effect of such exposures.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center