Adetunji T. Toriola, MD, PhD, professor of surgery in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was named the William H. Danforth Washington University Physician Scholar. He is the second physician-scientist named under the School of Medicine‘s new physician-scientist initiative, which supports pioneering physician-scientists whose work has already transformed their fields.
Toriola is a molecular cancer epidemiologist who joined the faculty in 2012. In addition to his medical training, he also received additional training in public health with a specialization in cancer epidemiology and prevention. As a public health scientist, Toriola studies ways to reduce the risk of premenopausal breast cancer and colorectal cancer. He is a Principal Investigator on two National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants – one funds research to understand the molecular basis of breast density and the mechanisms by which dense breasts increase breast cancer risk; the other, a MERIT award, is supporting a Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating whether targeting a signaling pathway can reduce breast density and levels of biomarkers known to increase breast cancer risk.
Additionally, Toriola is collaborating on a major multicenter study, also funded by the NIH, which aims to enroll 5,000 patients, from diverse backgrounds, newly diagnosed with colorectal cancer to understand how lifestyle and other factors affect disease outcomes.
“Dr. Toriola’s appointment builds on the School of Medicine’s heritage as home to some of the world’s most influential physician-scientists and our commitment to continue to do so,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, Executive Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor Emeritus. Toriola brings a scientific public health approach to identifying key targets for the prevention of breast cancer, one of the holy grails of the personalized medicine paradigm. I am delighted that the Bill Danforth WashU Physician-Scientist Investigator Initiative supports his exciting work.
For his research, Toriola draws on his multidisciplinary medical training. In addition to a medical degree from Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, his training included an advanced medical degree in anesthesiology from the West African College of Surgeons, headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria; a master’s degree in public health from the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland; a PhD in epidemiology from the University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland; and a postdoctoral fellowship in cancer epidemiology and prevention from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany.
Toriola has developed a research program characterizing the biological determinants of mammographic breast density and breast cancer. His research focuses on the application of various omic approaches – metabolomics, transcriptomics, genomics, proteomics – to identify novel targetable markers and pathways associated with breast density and breast cancer development, particularly in premenopausal women. His lab has provided evidence that activator signaling from the nuclear factor ligand-κB receptor (RANKL) is positively associated with mammographic breast density. It has also established a platform to rapidly translate preclinical and clinical research findings into clinical trials of chemoprevention in high-risk premenopausal women with dense breasts. In the Phase 2 clinical trial he is leading, Toriola and colleagues are investigating whether the antibody denosumab, which targets RANKL signaling, can reduce breast density in premenopausal women with dense breasts who are at high risk for breast cancer. breast. If the treatment reduces breast density, it could open up other approaches to preventing breast cancer in women who do not have a strong genetic predisposition.
Premenopausal women account for 25% of newly diagnosed breast cancer cases in the United States, said Timothy J. Eberlein, MDdirector of the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Washington University School of Medicine, and senior associate dean of cancer programs at the School of Medicine.
“Dr. Toriola’s research addresses a critical unmet need in the prevention of premenopausal breast cancer, given the limited number of chemoprevention options available,” said Eberlein, also Spencer T. and Ann W. Emeritus Professor. Olin, “His research represents cutting-edge research in precision prevention.”
A second aspect of Toriola’s research focuses on creating unique clinical resources to discover new biomarkers of risk, clinical outcomes and treatment response in breast and colorectal cancer patients. As part of his work in colorectal cancer, he is one of the principal investigators of the ColoCare study, an international consortium of seven leading cancer centers in the United States and Germany. The study collects detailed information on lifestyle, medical history and cancer treatment, as well as biological samples from patients with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer. The research aims to identify factors that influence prognosis, treatment toxicity and response to treatment.
“Dr. Toriola is part of a vibrant community of physician-researchers who excel and are poised to advance their fields in innovative and profound ways,” said Wayne M. Yokoyama, MDdirector of the Physician-Scientist Division, Sam J. Levin and Audrey Loew Levin Professor of Arthritis Research, and Associate Dean. “It’s an exciting time to be a physician-scientist on the University of Washington Medical Campus.”
The new Physician-Scientist initiative focuses on medical and medical/doctoral researchers at the rank of associate or full professor with an established track record of outstanding research contributions and funding. The School of Medicine has committed $40 million over the next decade to be used in highly competitive packages to support faculty. With seed funding from this commitment, the school’s clinical departments aim to attract and retain the most talented physician-scientists in the United States and abroad.
William H. Danforth, MD, who served as chancellor of the University of Washington from 1971 to 1995, inspired the initiative. Danforth was a cardiologist who joined medical school in 1957 after training in medicine and pediatrics at what is now Barnes-Jewish Hospital, followed by St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He rose through the ranks in the School of Medicine before taking on administrative duties as Vice Chancellor for Medical Affairs. Along the way, he conducted basic research in the lab of Nobel laureates Carl and Gerty Cori. During his tenure as Chancellor, the University of Washington significantly expanded its resources for scholarship and scientific discovery, and completed its transition from a local college to a national research university.
“It is a great honor to be named the William H. Danforth Scholar in Medicine and to continue to lead transformative breast cancer prevention research at the School of Medicine with its collaborative, creative, and impressive community of physicians- researchers,” Toriola said.