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Cross-Disciplinary and Multi-Institutional: Drexel, Jefferson, Behavioral Science and Cancer

Meghan Butryn, PhD - Drexel Psychology Prof and Licensed Clinical Psychologist


September 25, 2020

Meghan Butryn, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and a licensed clinical psychologist. She also serves as Director of Research in Drexel’s Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science.

After two years as an Operational Leader in Population Science at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC), Butryn was promoted to Program Leader of its new Cancer Risk and Control Program. She spoke recently about the partnership between Drexel and Thomas Jefferson universities, what she’ll be doing in her new role, and the link between behavioral science and cancer.

Can you describe the collaboration between Drexel and Jefferson?

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center located at Jefferson University. NCI designation is awarded to less than 5% of cancer centers in the U.S. Drexel has been a consortium member of the SKCC since 2013.

What will you be doing in your new role at SKCC?

NCI-designated cancer centers are organized according to formalized Research Programs, each of which are directed by one or more Program Leaders. I am serving as a Program Leader of the Cancer Risk and Control Program, along with Jefferson’s Nicole Simone, MD, and Andrew Chapman, DO. As a program leader, I participate in strategic planning, particularly regarding how to increase externally funded research. I provide mentorship to junior faculty, plan events such as the annual retreat and monthly seminars, and facilitate the formation of transdisciplinary research teams across Jefferson and Drexel.

How does your work relate to cancer risk and control?

My area of research focuses on prevention and treatment of obesity. I also develop and test programs designed to promote physical activity or improve dietary intake. Weight control, exercise and eating habits can influence risk of several types of cancer, so this area is very important for cancer prevention. During the cancer survivorship period, lifestyle modification also can address problems such as fatigue and depression. For some types of cancer, lifestyle modification also may have a role in reducing risk of reoccurrence.

What role does behavioral science play in biomedical research in general, and cancer research in particular?

Basic, clinical and behavioral scientists need to work together to answer questions such as, “If exercise reduces risk of prostate cancer, through what biological pathway does that occur, and how can we help men at heightened risk of prostate cancer increase their exercise?” If lifestyle modification is going to be part of the prescription for reducing cancer risk and addressing survivorship needs, behavioral scientists need to be part of the team. In the modern environment, it is very difficult for most adults to make healthy food choices, get sufficient physical activity, and control their weight, so simply telling patients to do those things is not effective — additional tools that behavioral science can provide need to be part of the equation.

What kind of opportunities does the Drexel/Jefferson partnership present for our faculty?

I encourage all Drexel faculty members interested in cancer research to attend one of the monthly SKCC seminars or annual retreats. The scientists at Jefferson are very talented and have valuable resources at their disposal for conducting important research, and they are eager for Drexel collaborators.