ACE Member Highlight: Dr. Melissa L. Bondy, FACE

As Professor and Associate Director for the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Melissa L. Bondy is internationally renowned for her epidemiological research on glioma and breast cancer. She is a McNair Scholar and Komen Scholar, and has been the principal investigator or co-investigator on multiple NIH-funded studies, including the National Cancer Institute’s Brain Tumor Epidemiology Consortium.

Dr. Bondy has been active in numerous leadership roles within the American College of Epidemiology and other professional organizations. To name a few, she is currently serving on the ACE Board of Directors and is a committee member for the Society for Neuro-Oncology and the American Society of Prevention Oncology. Dr. Bondy is the author of more than 250 scientific publications and 20 book chapters. She serves on study sections for the National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Dr. Bondy is the Associate Editor for Cancer Research and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, and currently serves on the Editorial Boards for Molecular and Translational Epidemiology, and Application of Clinical Genetics.

An interview with ACE Fellow, Dr. Melissa L. Bondy
by Siu Kei (Jacky) Chow, Ph.D., D(ABMM)

Question: What experience(s) have helped shape your career?

Answer: I had an internship at the University of Pennsylvania on occupational safety and health, and I was looking into the relationship between environmental occupational exposure and glioma. Shortly after, I worked with Dr. Patricia Buffler at School of Public Health, the University of Texas, who was an environmental and occupational epidemiologist as well as a former President of the American College of Epidemiology That experience has since shaped my research interest, and to date, glioma is still the main theme of my research.

Question: How have technological advancements impacted your research in epidemiology? What is the biggest challenge?

Answer: The technology indeed has driven our research, from the ability of detecting single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), to the application of complex array system, whole genome sequencing and next generation sequencing. The development of statistical tools and better databases to manage massive amounts of epidemiological and clinical data has made large collaboration studies possible. The latest technology also advances diagnosis and treatment. For example, we can now distinguish different subtypes of glioma and breast cancer with specific molecular patterns, and optimize the treatment accordingly.

At the same time, it will take extra effort to analyze and fully understand all the data generated by these new technologies. The translation of clinical data into practice and treatment with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcome can be challenging. At the Baylor College of Medicine, we have a human genome center with cutting-edge technologies and experts in the field, and their supports have been invaluable to my research.

Question: How do you describe your international collaborations?

Answer: International collaboration, or Big Science, is becoming more important, especially for rare diseases. Having a large study population is critical in epidemiology, and this is why we have consortia to promote collaboration and to facilitate the exchange of ideas and findings. During the process, it may be challenging to coordinate with a large group of people with different personalities and backgrounds, but in the end, the quality of the work and outcomes make it all worthwhile. Currently, I am leading the Gliogene International Consortium with 14 centers from all over the world to better understand the role of gene and environment interactions in glioma etiology.

Question: What is your advice for young scientists?

Answer: Young scientists and students should try to find the best group to work in, as that is where the opportunities are the most accessible. Times have changed, and nowadays it is almost a requirement to have a good postdoctoral experience in order to move up the academic ladder. They need the right experience and skill set to become an independent researcher and to excel in the field and get funding. While young scientists need to be proactive in research and professional organizations, have good ideas, and be hard-working, it is also important to have senior scientists or mentors to empower junior people and show them the way.