Professor David Whiteman
Senior Scientist and Group Leader
Cancer Control Group
Phone: +61 7 3362 0279
Current QIMR Berghofer appointment
- 2016-current: QIMR Berghofer Deputy Director.
- 2014-2018: NHMRC Principal Research Fellow.
- 2010-2013: ARC Future Fellow (Senior Level).
- 2004-2009: NHMRC Senior Research Fellow.
- 2000-2003: NHMRC Peter Doherty Fellow.
- 1998-1999: Nuffield Medical Research Fellow, University Of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
- 1997: Senior Registrar in Public Health Medicine, Queensland Health, Brisbane, Australia.
Current Area of Research
My early research career focused on the theme sunlight and skin cancer, and I have continued to work in this area for more than two decades. In 2011, I initiated QSkin, the world’s largest prospective study of skin cancer with almost 44,000 participants. This cohort study will measure absolute and relative risks for basal and squamous cell carcinomas (BCC and SCC) and melanoma associated with phenotypic, lifestyle, clinical, and environmental factors, from which to build novel, valid decision tools for doctors and patients.
In 2012, my group was awarded a $3.4 million NHMRC project grant to collect DNA samples on all QSkin participants and perform a genome-wide association study – one of the largest studies of its type ever conducted in Australia. The cohort will also measure the impacts of protective behaviours and estimate the burden (mortality, costs, etc.) of skin cancer in Australia.
Upon returning from Oxford in 2000, I began to investigate the rapidly rising incidence of oesophageal cancer, and initiated a number of large-scale epidemiological studies in this area. These investigations continue through rewarding collaborations with national (PROBE-NET consortium) and international (BEACON consortium) investigators.
More recently, I have taken a broader interest in cancer control, using the data generated from epidemiological studies to develop estimates of cancer burden with a view to informing health policy.
My research career has been largely devoted to the field of cancer control, particularly for cancers of the skin (69 papers; 35 >20 cites) and recently, the oesophagus (55 papers; 14 >20 cites).
- Multiple causal pathways to melanoma: During my doctoral studies supervised by Adele Green, I observed that melanomas may be grouped according to the expression of the p53 tumour suppressor gene, and that p53 expression was associated with patterns of sun exposure. From these observations, I proposed the ‘divergent pathway hypothesis’ which proposed that sunlight’s role in causing melanoma differs depending upon host phenotype and the anatomic site of the target cell.
- Identified risk factors for childhood melanoma: I conducted the world’s first analytical studies of childhood melanoma, firstly documenting the incidence of these cancers before identifying causal factors.
- Defined the ‘critical period’ for sun exposure: By cataloguing melanoma incidence rates among migrants around the world, I showed conclusively that exposure to high levels of sunlight in childhood is strongly associated with cutaneous melanoma.
- Melanocyte responses to sunlight: With Elke Hacker, Nick Hayward and Michael Kimlin (QUT), we conducted clinical trials exposing human volunteers to solar simulated UV radiation, demonstrating that melanocytes proliferate in response to sunlight, and that this is blocked by sunscreen. We also identified a key role for the MC1R pigmentation gene in controlling the rate at which melanocytes proliferate.
- Obesity is an independent risk factor for Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal adenocarcinoma.
- Smoking has different effects on oesophageal adenocarcinoma and oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC).
- Aspirin and NSAIDs reduce the risk of oesophageal adenocarcinoma.
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori reduces the risks of Barrett’s Oesophagus and oesophageal adenocarcinoma.
- Estimating the burden of cancers in Australia that are due to modifiable factors.
- Fellow of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine.
- National Association of NHMRC Research Fellows.
- Australasian Epidemiological Associations.
- 2013: NHMRC Principal Research Fellow.
- 2011: Bancroft Medal – service to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research.
- 2009: ARC Future Fellow (senior level).
- 2008: NHMRC ‘10 of the Best’ for Program Grant #199600 (with Adele Green and Penny Webb).
- 2006: American Society of Clinical Oncology Major Advance in Cancer Research.
- 2006: Fulbright Senior Scholarship.
- 2004: QIMR Annual Conference: Best Scientific Presentation.
- 2004: Clive Berghofer Prize: Best Scientific Paper published by QIMR Faculty.
- 2001: Australia Post Medical Research Fellowship: Royal Aust College of Physicians.
- 2001: Young Tall Poppy Award: Aust. Institute of Political Science.
- 1997: Nuffield Medical Research Fellowship: University of Oxford.
- 1995: Australian Epidemiological Association Student Presentation Prize.
- 1994: The John Earnshaw Scholarship (declined): Queensland Cancer Fund.
- 1992: Trevor Taylor Research Prize: Royal Darwin Hospital.
- 1987: Mayne Undergraduate Research Studentship: The University of Queensland.
- 1986: William Nathaniel Robertson Scholarship: The University of Queensland.
In addition to his research activities, Professor Whiteman is a member of the Academy of the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC) and Chair of the Barrett’s Neoplasia Guidelines Committee for the Cancer Council Australia. He chairs the research committee of the Wesley Research Institute, and serves on research advisory committees of the Australian Twin Registry and Cancer Council NSW. He previously chaired the Fellowships committee of the International Agency for Research on Cancer and served as a Member of Council of NHMRC, the NHMRC National Asbestos Research Working Group, NHMRC Privacy Working Group, NHMRC Strategic Research Development Committee and Cure Cancer Australia Foundation.
- 1998: Fellow, Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
- 1997: Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland.
- 1991: Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery (Hons), The University of Queensland.
- 1988: Bachelor of Medical Science, The University of Queensland.