IGSB Fellow Habibul Ahsan receives named professorship

Four faculty members in Pritzker, BSD receive named appointments

January 17, 2012

Four members of the faculty in the Biological Sciences Division—Habibul Ahsan, Peter Angelos, David Song and Jerrold Turner—have received named professorships.
Habibul Ahsan, MD, MMedSc, professor in the departments of health studies, human genetics and medicine, director of the Center for Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention at the University of Chicago Medical Center and associate director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, has been named a Louis Block Professor.
Ahsan studies the relationships between environmental and genomic factors in cancer and other diseases to understand the pathogenesis, prognosis and prevention of diseases of broad public health significance. He has published extensively on the large-scale epidemiology, genetic susceptibility and prevention of health effects of arsenic exposure, from contaminated wells in parts of Bangladesh, and also on the molecular and genetic epidemiology of breast and other cancers.

Since 2000, Ahsan has led the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study, or HEALS. This study examines the long-term consequences of arsenic exposure—a problem that affects nearly a third of the population of Bangladesh—on a sample of 20,000 men and women in Bangladesh. In 2010, his team showed that the risk of dying from a chronic disease was nearly 70 percent higher for those with high arsenic levels. Those with moderate exposures had a 20 to 30 percent increased risk. A follow-up study found that the combination of arsenic exposure with smoking multiplied the risk.

Based on the scientific leads from HEALS, Ahsan and colleagues are now testing whether inexpensive supplements of selenium and vitamin E can reduce rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease and death for those with elevated arsenic levels among 7,000 exposed individuals in a separate study called Bangladesh vitamin E and Selenium Trial (BEST).

He is also principal investigator of two genome-wide association studies to identify novel genes for breast cancer risk and prognosis among 7,000 young women from the United States, Germany, Canada and Australia.
Born in Bangladesh, Ahsan received his medical degree from Dhaka University in 1988, followed by a M.Med.Sc degree in epidemiology from the University of Western Australia in 1992 and post-doctoral training in molecular epidemiology at Columbia University from 1993-1995. He then served on the faculty at Columbia for 11 years before coming to Chicago in 2006.

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