Epidemiologist Frank C. Garland, PhD, Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Cancer San Diego and Technical Director of the Naval Health Research Center, has died at age 60, of esophageal cancer.
“Frank Garland's untimely death is a great loss to this division, where he has been a superb teacher of epidemiologic research methods in general, and the potential benefits of Vitamin D in particular,” Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, MD, Professor and Chief of the Division of Epidemiology in the UCSD Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, said in a news release from USC.
“His studies and research by many other scientists now suggest that Vitamin D not only prevents some common cancers, but also reduces the risk of other common diseases. Frank will be missed as a scholar, mentor, and friend.”
His brother and co-investigator, Cedric Garland, PhD, also Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego, said their interest in vitamin D began in July 1974. As he recalled: “We had just driven cross-country to attend a seminar in Baltimore. On the very first day, some cancer mortality rate maps were shared. We both immediately noticed a pattern; a pattern that launched both our careers. Our entire academic lives are based on that single moment.”
At that seminar, the Garland brothers noticed that the mortality rate maps of breast and colon cancer were twice as high in many counties of the northern tier of states as in the southwest. These geographic differences led to their theory that vitamin D and calcium were preventing adenocarcinomas of the colon and breast in the sunnier parts of the United States. This theory broke away from the conventional belief that sunlight was a dangerous cause of skin cancer that should be completely avoided.
The Garland's theory, first published in 1980 in the International Journal of Epidemiology, proposed that vitamin D and calcium are capable of preventing cancer, setting the course for a three-decade-long career devoted to vitamin D research.
“Over the past three decades, the Garlands' seminal hypothesis has been largely confirmed by numerous additional studies,” said Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health. “Improving vitamin D status remains one of the most promising natural ways to combat incidence and death from some cancers.”
Frank Garland's descriptive study of sunlight and cancer mortality initiated two well-known studies published by members of the Garland team and other colleagues in The Lancet. The first was a 19-year historical cohort study in Chicago that found that people whose vitamin D and/or calcium intakes were in the top fifth of the population had half the incidence of colon cancer as those in the bottom fifth. This was the first study to find an effect of oral intake of vitamin D or calcium on cancer risk.
The second key paper analyzed vitamin D concentrations in volunteers in Washington County, Maryland. This cohort study collected blood from 25,000 volunteers and showed for the first time that people with high concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the serum had very low risk of colon cancer.
These Garland papers are cited in more than 95% of other vitamin D-related papers, the USC news release noted. The papers have led to major advances in the understanding of the role of vitamin D in cancer prevention including its role in prevention of cancers of the ovary, kidney, bladder, and endometrium.
In 2006, the International Journal of Epidemiology re-published Garland's 1980 article concerning vitamin D and cancer mortality based on his geographic observations. The republication was followed by scientific commentaries on the importance of this seminal research.
“Frank's devotion to the pursuit of scientific truth about vitamin D and realization of its potential benefit to humanity is a major factor in the emergence of vitamin D as an increasingly accepted tool for reducing incidence rates of cancer, and more recently, Type 1 diabetes in children,” said Cedric Garland.
In addition to his brother, Frank Garland is survived by his mother, Eva Caldwell Garagliano, also of San Diego.