Noted cancer expert Thomas J. Slaga, Ph.D., joined the Health Science Center this summer as a professor of pharmacology and San Antonio Cancer Institute (SACI) member. Dr. Slaga has been involved with scientific studies of cancer for almost 40 years and has research interests ranging from cancer causation, prevention and control to aging.
“Understanding how one’s genetic makeup interacts with the environment is the biggest aspect of understanding cancer,” Dr. Slaga said. “For example, there are people who have good genes, meaning their bodies are able to detoxify chemicals more effectively than the average person. Research tells us that if these individuals lived healthier lifestyles, their lifespan could increase a great deal.”
Dr. Slaga’s book, “The Detox Revolution,” provides recommendations on how to boost the body’s ability to fight cancer and other diseases. In it, he writes, “Combining a sensible lifestyle with foods and supplements known to enhance detoxification will not only protect us from many known risk factors, but will also have a profound effect on how our genes behave.”
Dr. Slaga studies what food combinations can serve as the greatest protection against cancer. “We look at specific chemicals in foods that seem to serve as cancer-fighting agents and then observe combinations of chemicals that can be protective against cancer,” Dr. Slaga said. “The question is, can we come up with groups of chemicals that are protective against cancer and can serve as supplements for the necessary vitamins we don’t get from foods each day?”
Dr. Slaga spent the past five years in Denver, Colo., where he served as scientific director at the AMC Cancer Research Center and deputy director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Prior to this, he spent 15 years at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he was the director of the Science Park – Research Division.
Dr. Slaga is a member of many noted organizations, including the Aspen Cancer Conference, with which he has been involved for the past 20 years. This conference is one of the most prestigious, Dr. Slaga said, because it is designed to focus on specific areas of cancer research. It is one of the few conferences that combine academia, regulatory agencies and industry. The SACI, a collaborative program between the Health Science Center and the Cancer Therapy & Research Center, was a proud sponsor of this year’s conference that took place July 24-28.
“Not more than 100 individuals attend the conference each year, but all attendees are experts in their area of study,” Dr. Slaga said. “This year, two Nobel Laureates and 10 National Academy of Sciences members attended. Because we are a particularly small group, it enables us to have in-depth discussions on specific topics and several collaborations have resulted because of this.”
Dr. Slaga’s wife, Mary, plays a crucial role in the Aspen Cancer Conference. She serves as the administrative officer for the conference each year, meaning she does everything from food arrangements to raising funds of up to $200,000 per year to make the conference possible.
“This conference would not be possible without Mary,” Dr. Slaga said. Mrs. Slaga is a visitor of the Health Science Center and the SACI, and spends her time planning the upcoming conference.
“The busiest times are right before the conference and right afterwards,” Mrs. Slaga said. “After one conference, I have to immediately begin planning for the next conference because there are so many different aspects of it. It is a long process, but well worth it because of the outcome.”
Dr. and Mrs. Slaga said they are glad to be back in Texas.
“When we moved to Colorado, we knew it was only temporary,” Dr. Slaga said. “Our two sons and two grandchildren live here – we consider Texas home.”