Chen Chien-Jen, Sc.D., an epidemiologist who is well known in the environmental health field for influential studies related to liver disease, was elected vice president of Taiwan in January. A former collaborator with NIEHS-funded researchers, Chen was dedicated to molecular and genomic epidemiological research on chronic arsenic poisoning and chemical-induced cancers prior to entering Taiwanese politics.
“He is absolutely a wonderful collaborator,” said Regina Santella, Ph.D., professor in environmental health sciences and vice dean of faculty affairs and research at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. “He worked with us on an NIEHS grant for nearly 25 years — a long and fruitful relationship. I believe he’s a highly principled person who wants science in government decisions.”
According to Santella, Chen’s work with her resulted in the discovery of biomarkers related to human exposure to aflatoxins, a dietary mold contaminant, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are common air pollutants. All are good predictors of liver cancer.
Collaboration with other NIEHS-funded programs
“We invited him to join the External Advisory Committee of our Superfund Research Program at its inception in 2000. He served for 15 years and guided our thinking about our epidemiologic research on arsenic in Bangladesh,” said Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., professor of environmental health sciences and pharmacology, and director of the Superfund Research Program at Columbia University.
“His studies of the arsenic-exposed population in southwestern Taiwan were groundbreaking and revealed associations with skin, lung, liver, and bladder cancer, as well as adverse effects on cardiovascular disease,” said William Suk, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Superfund Research Program.
Chen also served as a reviewer for the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which is published by NIEHS.
Findings with far-reaching impact
Chen’s research on the effects of arsenic exposure led health agencies around the world to lower acceptable exposure levels, and his assessment of the risk of liver cancer in people with chronic hepatitis led to new treatment guidelines, according to a news report in Nature.
In Taiwan, Chen is regarded as a national hero for effectively handling an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a deadly virus that causes a flu-like disease, in 2003, after he became Minister of Health. Chen later joined Taiwan’s National Science Council, and then became vice president at Academia Sinica, the country’s leading academic research institute, a position he held until his election.
(Carol Kelly is a science writer with MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)