Cancer Researcher Gains Regulatory Science Experience Through FDA Fellowship

Posted in GUMC Stories

FEBRUARY 16, 2014 – Through a prestigious fellowship with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a Georgetown University Medical Center (new window) researcher who specializes in behavioral cancer prevention is getting a rare peek behind the regulatory curtain.

Darren Mays, PhD, assistant professor of oncology at GUMC’s Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (new window), is one of four mid-career professionals selected as 2013-2014 Tobacco Regulatory Science Fellows at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Rockville, Md.

Jointly administered by the Institute of Medicine and the FDA, the fellowship is for mid-career professionals to get hands-on training in tobacco regulatory science. The one-year fellowship began in September 2013 and will end this August.

An Insider’s Perspective

Mays’ primary research interests at Georgetown include behavioral cancer prevention among adolescent and young adult populations. He seeks to develop public health and policy interventions to motivate young people to make healthy decisions, thus reducing long-term risks of cancer.

His recent and ongoing studies of behavioral risk factors for cancer have examined tobacco and alcohol use, sun safety and UV radiation exposure.

Mays says the fellowship has provided a unique glimpse into the inner workings of the FDA—and a better understanding of the agency’s priorities.

“Being at the FDA and seeing how they apply research data has given me a much more informed perspective of what kinds of studies are most relevant to the regulatory process,” May says.

Since regulatory processes can be somewhat opaque—and often are kept confidential—the chance to observe how these processes work at close range has been invaluable, according to Mays.

“I am seeing how the kind of work I do in an academic research setting could be shaped to help inform regulatory decisions,” he says. “It is giving me a richer perspective on regulatory science.”

Through the fellowship, which he is conducting part time while continuing his work at Georgetown, Mays is gaining opportunities to research the best ways to communicate with the public about tobacco products and their risks, and to investigate consumer perceptions of various tobacco products.

“I had previously focused on one aspect of tobacco research, which was public health messaging and warning labels,” Mays said. “I am still interested in those same subjects but I am now gaining experience in new areas that enable me to approach my research from different avenues.”

By Lauren Wolkoff and Sarah Reik
GUMC Communications