Scientific News from the Behavioral Research Program (BRP)

This issue of BRP Scientific News provides funding opportunity news and scientific highlights from extramural researchers, as well as staffing and career announcements from the NCI Behavioral Research Program. Members of our research community who wish to continue receiving this semi-annual e-newsletter may include in their address book to ensure proper delivery. Recipients may subscribe or unsubscribe anytime via:

As always, we welcome your feedback. Please do not hesitate to contact any member of the BRP staff. Our online staff directory was designed to help you find the appropriate contact for a research project, view our network of mentorship and collaboration, and learn more about behavioral research supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Funding Opportunities

The NCI Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Program (NCI Omnibus PAR-15-340 R21) will expire on November 11, 2015. We also participate in a variety of R21 funding announcements. Those currently open to receipt include:

  • Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (PAR-13-054);
  • Behavioral and Social Science Research on Understanding and Reducing Health Disparities (PA-13-288);
  • Research Answers to NCI’s Provocative Questions (CA-15-009);
  • Advancing Interventions to Improve Medication Adherence (PA-14-335);
  • School Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies, Obesogenic Behaviors, and Weight Outcomes (PA-13-098);
  • Developing Interventions for Health-Enhancing Physical Activity (PAR-14-321 R21/R33);
  • Exploratory/Developmental Clinical Research Grants in Obesity (PA-15-163);
  • Understanding and Promoting Health Literacy PAR-13-132;
  • Innovative Research Methods: Prevention and Management of Symptoms in Chronic Illness PA-13-167;
  • Systems Science and Health in the Behavioral and Social Sciences (PAR-15-047); and
  • Exploratory Studies of Smoking Cessation Interventions for People with Schizophrenia (PAR-14-230).

Our RFA, Smoking Cessation within the Context of Lung CancerScreening (RFA-CA-15-011), expired on October 9, 2015. We look forward to announcing the awardees in the spring. The Opportunity Announcements listed below represent a selection of extramural funding associated with Behavioral Research in Cancer Prevention and Control, including a Cooperative Agreement initiative issued on Fundamental Mechanisms of Affective and Decisional Processes in Cancer Control. For full a listing of Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) Opportunities for Researchers, please visit the DCCPS Funding Opportunities page. A complete list of NCI Funding Opportunities is available on the NCI Funding Opportunities page.

Title Announcement # Expiration Date Contact

Chemistry, Toxicology, and Addiction Research on Waterpipe Tobacco

RFA-OD-15-005 (R01)

November 21, 2015

Rachel Grana Mayne

Abuse Liability Associated with Reduced Nicotine Content Tobacco Products 

RFA-OD-15-006 (R01)

December 12, 2015

Rachel Grana Mayne

Accelerating the Pace of Drug Abuse Research Using Existing Data

PAR-13-080 (R01)

January 8, 2016

Erik Augustson

Understanding and Promoting Health Literacy

PAR-13-130 (R01)
PAR-13-131 (R03)
PAR-13-132 (R01)

May 8, 2016

Wen-Ying Sylvia Chou

School Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies, Obesogenic Behaviors and Weight Outcomes

PA-13-100 (R01)
PA-13-099 (R03)
PA-13-098 (R01)

May 8, 2016

Tanya Agurs-Collins

Obesity Policy Evaluation Research

PA-13-110 (R01)

May 8, 2016

David Berrigan

Fundamental Mechanisms of Affective and Decisional Processes in Cancer Control

PAR-14-067 (U01)

October 15, 2016

Rebecca Ferrer

Tobacco Regulatory Science Small Grant Program for New Investigators

RFA-OD-15-004 (R03)

February 24, 2017

Rachel Grana Mayne

Staffing Announcements

Susan Czajkowski

Dr. Susan Czajkowski has been appointed Chief of the Health Behaviors Research Branch (HBRB) within the NCI Behavioral Research Program, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. HBRB supports research on cancer prevention and control in areas including diet, energy balance, physical activity, sleep, sun safety, protection from viral exposure, and genetic influences on behaviors. Dr. Czajkowski’s expertise in health behavior interventions as well as psychosocial aspects of disease and health-related quality of life will help guide the research agenda in HBRB and inform new initiatives in the Behavioral Research Program, led by Associate Director, Dr. William Klein.

“Dr. Czajkowski’s exceptional track record in collaboration and innovation of behavioral and social science research is an incredibly valuable addition to NCI,” noted Dr. Klein. “Her scientific leadership experiences and expertise make her an ideal Branch Chief and member of our program leadership team.”

Dr. Czajkowski first joined the National Institutes of Health in 1987 when she became a Project Officer in the Behavioral Medicine Research Group at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Since that time, she has become an expert in the role of social and psychological factors in disease risk and recovery. She most recently served as a Program Director for the Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch at NHLBI. In that role she has developed and led initiatives on the effects of depression treatment on cardiovascular disease outcomes, the improvement of adherence to lifestyle and medical therapies, and the translation of basic behavioral science findings into health-related behavioral interventions.

Her interest in early-phase translational behavioral science prompted her to initiate and serve as lead Project Officer for the Obesity-Related Behavioral Intervention Trials (ORBIT) consortium, a trans-NIH network of seven projects aimed at developing innovative behavioral interventions to reduce obesity using findings from basic research on human behavior. A major product of the ORBIT consortium has been the development of the ORBIT Model, a systematic framework for developing behavioral treatments for preventing and treating chronic diseases, which was recently published in Health Psychology. Other recent collaborations include participation in the Science of Behavior Change Initiative, the Basic Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Opportunity Network (OppNet), and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research coordinating committee. She received a bachelor’s degree from George Mason University exit disclaimer and a master’s and doctorate in psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park exit disclaimer.

Kathy J. Helzlsouer

Dr. Kathy J. Helzlsouer has been named an Associate Director and Chief Medical Officer in NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS). She will direct the Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program, which includes the Office of the Associate Director, Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Branch, Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Genomic Epidemiology Branch, Methods and Technologies Branch, and Risk Factor Assessment Branch.

Dr. Robert Croyle, DCCPS director, said, “Dr. Helzlsouer is a highly accomplished epidemiologist and clinician with a broad vision of cancer epidemiology, prevention, and control. She brings a valuable blend of medical, scientific, and leadership skills, which will be a strong asset for NCI and DCCPS.”

Dr. Helzlsouer is board certified in medical oncology. Prior to joining NCI, she was a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and, since 2004, she directed The Prevention & Research Center exit disclaimer, which she established at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Dr. Helzlsouer led a team of health care specialists in cancer risk assessments, clinical research, and support programs for cancer patients and their families. She also is an associate editor of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and a member of NCI’s PDQ® Screening and Prevention Editorial Board. Her research interests are focused in cancer etiology and prevention, cancer survivorship, and clinical and translational research. Dr. Helzlsouer is a recipient of the Martin D. Abeloff Award for Excellence in Public Health and Cancer Control for her service on the Maryland State Council on Cancer Control.

Dr. Helzlsouer completed her M.D. at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine exit disclaimer, her internal medicine residency at the University of Virginia exit disclaimer, and her medical oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins University exit disclaimer. She also earned a Master of Health Science at Johns Hopkins University exit disclaimer.

BRP Career Opportunities

The Behavioral Research Program seeks to hire a scientist to join the Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch (BBPSB). Qualified candidates must have a doctorate or medical degree and established expertise in cancer biology, clinical oncology, cancer survivorship, or cancer-relevant translational research. The position provides researchers the opportunity to develop research and funding initiatives, cultivate a diverse portfolio of grant-supported research, lead and participate in transdisciplinary research collaborations, and develop national and international scientific programming. Interested candidates are encouraged to submit a letter of interest, CV, and two representative publications immediately to Paige Green, Ph.D., MPH, BBPSB Chief at:

The Science of Research and Technology Branch (SRTB) seeks to hire a Cancer Research Training Award Fellow to work on research projects and collaborate on programmatic and strategic initiatives to advance cancer prevention and control. The fellow will function as a member of the branch and work directly with scientists. Qualified candidates with a master’s degree, Ph.D., or equivalent in behavioral or social science research or related area will be considered for the position. To express interest, please email a letter of intent and resume/CV to Joan A. Harris at

The Tobacco Control Research Branch (TCRB) seeks to hire a Cancer Research Training Award Fellow to work in behavioral medicine and tobacco-control research. Areas of emphasis include international tobacco control, state and community tobacco control policy and media interventions, and tobacco industry document research. The fellow will function as a member of the branch and will work directly with intramural and extramural scientists. Qualified candidates with a master’s degree, Ph.D., or equivalent in public health, health education, epidemiology, health behavior, health communication, or a related discipline will be considered. To express interest, please email a letter of intent and resume/CV to Kristen Mangold at Deadline is November 15, 2015.

A full list of BRP Fellowship and Career Positions can be found online.

New Fellows

Cancer Prevention Fellows

Dr. Heather D’Angelo

Dr. Heather D’Angelo is a Cancer Prevention Fellow in the Health Behavior Research Branch (HBRB). Dr. D’Angelo researches cancer health disparities and the role the social, built, and policy environment plays in cancer-related health behaviors. During her time as a fellow, she plans to research the impact of place on cancer-related health behaviors. Dr. D’Angelo holds a Ph.D. in health behavior from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health exit disclaimer.

Dr. Erin Ellis

Dr. Erin Ellis joined the Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch (BBPSB). Dr. Ellis focuses on health decision-making and how cognitive mechanisms drive health behaviors. She also is interested in how affect and emotion influence risk perception, information processing, and other facets of decision-making. Dr. Ellis received a Ph.D. in community health and health behavior from State University of New York at Buffalo exit disclaimer.

Dr. Alexandra Greenberg

Dr. Alexandra Greenberg works in the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch (HCIRB). Her research focuses on the use of health information technology in cancer-care delivery. During her fellowship, she plans to analyze Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) data. Her goal is to improve communication-related care for cancer patients and survivors. Dr. Greenberg received a Ph.D. in clinical and translational science from Mayo Graduate School exit disclaimer.

Dr. Megan Roberts

Dr. Megan Roberts is a Cancer Prevention Fellow in the Behavioral Research Program. Dr. Roberts studies health disparities and their relationship to personalized medicine. She wrote her dissertation on how racial disparities influenced the uptake and use of a tumor-gene profiling test (Oncotype DX) used by women with breast cancer. She plans to continue studying the access and cost issues surrounding genetic technologies. Dr. Roberts holds a Ph.D. in health policy and management from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health exit disclaimer.

Dr. Christopher Wheldon

Dr. Christopher Wheldon works in the Science of Research and Technology Branch (SRTB). His research focuses on how patterns of cancer-related risk (e.g., tobacco use) and preventive health behaviors (e.g., HPV vaccination, cancer screening) are socially reproduced among sexual and ethnoracial minorities. During his fellowship, Dr. Wheldon plans to investigate novel theoretical and methodological approaches to health behavior and education across the cancer control at continuum. He received a Ph.D. in community and family health from the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida exit disclaimer.

Dr. Kara Wiseman

Dr. Kara Wiseman joined the Tobacco Control Research Branch (TCRB). Dr. Wiseman’s research interests include behavioral epidemiology, cancer survivorship, and cancer screening decisional conflict. She is also passionate about developing, implementing, and evaluating cancer-preventive behavioral interventions. Dr. Wiseman holds a Ph.D. in epidemiology from Virginia Commonwealth University exit disclaimer.

Cancer Research Training Award Fellows

Angela Falisi

Angela Falisi is a Cancer Research Training Award Fellow in the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch (HCIRB). Falisi is interested in how health literacy, digital and mobile technologies, and social media affect health and inform health education and communication strategies. She earned a M.P.H. in social behavior and community health from the University at Albany, State University of New York School of Public Health exit disclaimer.

Tracey Goldner

Tracey Goldner is a Health Communication Intern working in the Office of the Associate Director (OAD). Goldner is currently working toward her master’s degree in print and digital reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism exit disclaimer. She is interested in health journalism and is writing her thesis on framing and health disparities. She came to NCI to learn about cancer-related research.

Danny Ramin

Danny Ramin joined the Office of the Associate Director in September. He is interested in learning more about research and is currently assisting with a meta-analysis on emotion and health risk. He plans to apply to graduate school in the next few years. His eventual goal is to earn a Ph.D. in psychology. Ramin earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornell University exit disclaimer in May.

Jen Scheideler

Jen Scheideler joined the Office of the Associate Director (OAD) in September. Scheideler is interested in affective responses and behavior change. She will be responsible for coordinating meetings for the Cognitive, Affective, and Social Processes in Health Research (CASPHR) Workgroup. She will also assist OAD staff with research. In May, Scheideler received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder exit disclaimer.

Scientific Advances

Breaking up sedentary behavior improves metabolic function in children

A study led by former NCI fellow Britni Belcher and Dr. David Berrigan of the Health Behaviors Research Branch and Dr. Jack A. Yanovski (PI) of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that interrupting sedentary behavior in children improved their metabolic function. The study, “Effects of Interrupting Children’s Sedentary Behaviors with Activity on Metabolic Function: A Randomized Trial,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolismexit disclaimer. Children of normal weight between 7 to 11 years old participated in two experimental, randomly assigned conditions on different days: 3 hours of continuous sitting or 3 hours of sitting broken up by 3 minutes of moderate-intensity walking every 30 minutes. Children were given a buffet meal after each condition. The researchers measured insulin, C-peptide, glucose, free fatty acids, triglycerides, and cortisol every 30 minutes. They found that interrupted sitting resulted in significantly lower levels of insulin and free fatty acid concentrations. C-peptide and glucose levels were also lower in the group with interrupted sitting. In addition, the children who had just walked did not eat significantly more than the children in the sitting group. Interrupting sedentary behavior in children may be a strategy to improve metabolic health.

Reference: Belcher, B.R., Berrigan, D., Papachrisotopoulou, A., Brady, S.M., Bernstein, S.B., Brychta, R.J, Hattenbach, J.D., Tigner, I.L., Courville, A.B., Drinkard, B.E., Smith, K.P., Rosing, D.R., Wolters, P.L., Chen, K.Y., Yanovski, J.A. (2015). Effects of Interrupting Children’s Sedentary Behaviors with Activity on Metabolic Function: A Randomized Trial. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. jc.2015-2803 doi: 10.1210/jc.2015-2803

Retraining the brain with cognitive exercises, electric currents

The Philadelphia Inquirer exit disclaimer reported on Tobacco Control Research Branch-funded research this past September. Psychologist Caryn Lerman exit disclaimer with the Perelman School of Medicine Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania researched the influence of cognitive exercises and electric currents on the brain. The goal of the study was to understand why it is so difficult for people to quit smoking, which she believes, is not the result of a lack of knowledge or motivation. Cravings are powerful. There is also evidence that activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for self-control and planning, weakens when people experience nicotine withdrawal, she said. So she studied how to help people “retrain” their brains by stimulation in order to improve cognitive performance with the goal positive behavior change.

Dr. Lerman’s grant, “Neuroscience-based Interventions for Cancer Risk Behavior Change,” is part of a $6.5 million seven-year Outstanding Investigator Award  exit disclaimer that began this past summer. The program director for this work is Glen Morgan. Please visit the NCI Outstanding Investigator Award (R35) informational page to learn more.

Reference: Burling, S. “Could Changing the Brain Help Smokers Quit?” The Philadelphia Inquirer. September 15, 2015.

Exploring the link between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes

The Washington Post exit disclaimer recently covered another Tobacco Control Research Branch-funded study in its To Your Health section. The study was titled “Progression to Traditional Cigarette Smoking After Electronic Cigarette Use Among U.S. Adolescents and Young Adults,” and was published online in JAMA Pediatrics. The article will appear in print in November. The lead author on the study was Dr. Brian Primack  exit disclaimer, an assistant vice chancellor for research on health and society at the University of Pittsburgh. The researchers conducted analyses of longitudinal cohort data from 694 nonsmokers between the ages of 16 and 26 from the U.S.-based Dartmouth Media, Advertising and Health Study. At one-year follow-up, 37.5 percent of those who had initially reported using e-cigarettes had progressed to using conventional cigarettes, compared to 9.6 percent who had not used e-cigarettes at baseline. In an analysis that took into account demographics and other variables related to smoking, baseline e-cigarette use was a significant predictor of smoking at follow-up. The researchers concluded that e-cigarettes are associated with progression to conventional smoking.

References: Sun, L. “Study: Teens using e-cigs much more likely to start smoking cigarettes.” The Washington Post. September 8, 2015.
Primack, B.A., Soneji, S., Stoolmiller, M., Fine, M.J., Sargent, J.D. (2015). Progression to Traditional Cigarette Smoking After Electronic Cigarette Use Among US Adolescents and Young Adults. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1742

NIH launches landmark study on substance use and adolescent brain development

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study

NIH recently launched the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study to examine how substance use, including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use affects the developing brain. The study will follow about 10,000 9- and 10-year-olds for 10 years. Scientists will track the adolescents’ exposure to drugs and also will monitor their academic achievement, cognitive skills, mental health, and brain structure, and function. “With advances in neuroimaging and other investigative tools, we will be able to look in greater detail at the impact of substance use on young people,” NIDA’s Director Nora D. Volkow said in a news release. NIH awarded 13 grants to 11 research project sites, a coordinating center, and a data analysis and informatics center on Sept. 25. The Collaborative Research on Addiction at NIH (CRAN) – a collaboration of National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and NCI – developed the study. 

Reference: National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). “Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD).” Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health.

Beta-blockers and survival for patients with ovarian cancer

National Cancer Institute - Network on Biobehavioral Pathways in Cancer

A paper published this month in the journal Cancer shows an association between the use of nonselective beta-blockers and longer overall ovarian cancer survival. The article, titled “Clinical impact of selective and nonselective beta-blockers on survival in patients with ovarian cancer,” followed 1,425 women with ovarian cancer. The women who took any type of beta-blocker had a median overall survival of 47.8 months, compared to 42 months for nonusers. The researchers also found that beta-blocker type mattered. Women on nonselective beta-blockers had a median overall survival of 94.9 months, compared to 38 months for women on selective agents. Portions of the study were supported by the Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences Branch (BBPSB). In addition, coauthors Drs. Susan Lutgendorf and Anil Sood are members of the scientific steering committee for the Network on Biobehavioral Pathways in Cancer, coordinated by BBPSB. The network seeks to advance the knowledge of molecular pathways that link psychological, behavioral, or social factors to cancer biology. In the coming months, the network plans to support a window of opportunity trial through the Federally Funded Research and Development Center/Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research contractor, Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. to prospectively study the influence of nonselective beta-blockers on gene expression in early-stage breast cancer.

Reference: Watkins, J.L., Thaker, P.H., Nick, A.M., Ramondetta, L.M., Kumar, S., Urbauer, D.L., Matsuo, K., Squires, K.C., Coleman, R.L., Lutgendorf, S.K., Ramirez, P.T., Sood, A.K. (2015). Clinical Impact of Selective and Nonselective Beta-blockers on Survival in Patients with Ovarian Cancer. Cancer. 121(19): 3444-3451. doi: 10.1002/cncr.29392

Gordon Willis: It’s a good time to be a questionnaire designer or survey methodologist

Dr. Gordon Willis

The American Statistical Association exit disclaimer featured an interview exit disclaimer with Dr. Gordon Willis, Program Director with the Science of Research and Technology Branch (SRTB). In the Q & A, Dr. Willis reflected on his 25 years in questionnaire design, cognitive interviewing, and survey pretesting. He told the association his career in survey methodology was largely unplanned. “I’m convinced that much of life is unplanned and unintended­—and when the football bounces to you, pick it up, because you’re now a running back,” he said. He credited his success to strong mentors and collaborations over the years. He’s found the NIH to be a model for “how the federal government can work effectively on behalf of its citizenry,” he said. Dr. Willis encourages current and future survey methodologists to be open to new opportunities in technology and the changing landscape of survey methodology.

Reference: AMSTATNEWS: The Membership Magazine of the American Statistical Association. (2015). “Survey Research Scientists Tell Us What It Takes to Design a Survey.” Alexandria, VA.

Badge reads Human Subjects Protections Update

Resources, Research News, and Research Tools

Did you know about the proposed changes to the Common Rule for the Protection of Human Subjects?

  • Some studies that currently require IRB review would now become exempt. These include:
    • Surveys
    • Certain research involving benign interventions with adults
    • Secondary research use of identifiable private information originally collected as part of non-research activity, where notice of such possible use was given
  • Some studies that are currently exempt would be excluded from the Common Rule. This includes research that is inherently low-risk.
  • Investigators may use a forthcoming web-based decision tool to determine exempt status (and will not need administrative or IRB review to determine exempt status).
  • Secondary research use of biospecimens will require informed consent (e.g., broad consent for future, unspecified use), even if the investigator is not being given information that would enable him or her to identify whose biospecimen it is.
  • IRB continuing review will no longer be required for studies that undergo expedited review or have completed interventions and are merely analyzing data or involve only observational follow-up in conjunction with standard clinical care.

The public comment period ends December 7, 2015. For more information, see the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) Summary page and the Revisions page.

Grid-Enabled Measures

GEM - Grid-Enabled Measures Database A Community Site for Researchers

Use the Grid-Enabled Measures tool (GEM) to learn about and evaluate constructs and measures. New features include the ability to register using your LinkedIn profile and do PubMed Searches for relevant articles. You also can learn about and link to databases available to the public that include GEM measures and use the enhanced commenting and rating form. As always, GEM workspaces are available for people interested in vetting and reaching consensus on the use of common measures for collaborative research projects. Click here to go to the Request New Workspace page exit disclaimer.

Did You Know Video Series

Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program Did You Know video

In September, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program released a new “Did You Know” video exit disclaimer about Cancer Health Disparities. The video highlights which racial/ethnic groups are most at risk for certain cancers. For example, black people have the highest rate of colorectal cancer, Asians have the highest rate of liver cancer, and Hispanic women have the highest rate of cervical cancer. Health disparities are an area of research emphasis for behavioral research because they occur due to barriers to screening and care and for a variety of psychosocial factors. The aim of these educational videos is to teach people about cancer risk, cancer type, and the importance of getting cancer screenings.

Upcoming Meetings

Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study grantees are invited to Chicago, Illinois, on Oct. 22 and 23 for an instructional meeting. A full list of selected grantees is available online.

A New Grantee Workshop will be held for new DCCPS-funded investigators on Nov. 4 and 5 at NCI headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. This workshop is invitation-only.

Visit the archive page to view other Scientific News from the Behavioral Research Program newsletters.