Frank Garland, UCSD professor known for studying vitamin D-cancer link, dies

Funeral services will be held Saturday in La Jolla for Frank Garland, Ph.D., a UCSD professor whose studies shed light on the link between vitamin D and cancer. He died Aug. 17 in La Jolla after a year-long battle with advanced cancer.

He was a professor family and preventive medicine and served as technical director of the Naval Health Research Center.

A San Diego native, Garland was born on June 20, 1950. He received his Ph.D. degree in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins University and began a distinguished career in vitamin D research for cancer and disease prevention.

"Frank Garland's untimely death is a great loss to this division where he has been a superb teacher of epidemiologic research methods in general, and the potential benefits of Vitamin D in particular," said Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, M.D., professor and chief of the Division of Epidemiology in the UCSD Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. "His studies and research by many other scientists now suggest that Vitamin D not only prevents some common cancers, but also reduces the risk of other common diseases. Frank will be missed as a scholar, mentor, and friend."

Garland's brother and co-investigator, Cedric Garland, Ph.D., professor of family and preventive medicine at UCSD said their interest in vitamin D began in July 1974.

"We had just driven cross-country to attend a seminar in Baltimore. On the very first day, some cancer mortality rate maps were shared. We both immediately noticed a pattern; a pattern that launched both our careers. Our entire academic lives are based on that single moment."

At that seminar, the Garland brothers noticed that the mortality rate maps of breast and colon cancer were twice as high in many counties of the northern tier of states than in the southwest. These geographic differences led to their theory that vitamin D and calcium were preventing adenocarcinoma of the colon and breast in the sunnier parts of the United States. This theory broke away from the conventional belief that sunlight was a dangerous cause of skin cancer that should be completely avoided.

The Garland's theory, first published in 1980 in the International Journal of Epidemiology, proposed that vitamin D and calcium are capable of preventing cancer, setting the course for a three-decade-long career devoted to vitamin D research.

"Over the past three decades, the Garlands' seminal hypothesis has been largely confirmed by numerous additional studies," said Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., professor of nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health. "Improving vitamin D status remains one of the most promising natural ways to combat incidence and death from some cancers."

Frank Garland's descriptive study of sunlight and cancer mortality initiated two well-known studies published by members of the Garland team and other colleagues in the medical journal The Lancet. The first study was a 19-year historical cohort study in Chicago which found that people whose vitamin D and/or calcium intakes were in the top fifth of the population had half the incidence of colon cancer as those in the bottom fifth. This was the first study to find an effect of oral intake of vitamin D or calcium on cancer risk.

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