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Relationship Matters

John Groopman, PhD. and Tom Kensler, PhD.

Toasting 40 years of friendship with a cancer-preventing broccoli brew


Tom Kensler, PhD, is a tall and lean former first baseman who is green-eyed, bio-chemical, reserved and intense; a challenger prone to caution who likes to climb mountains. His lifelong friend, John Groopman, PhD, is shorter and broader; a former catcher who is dark-eyed, analytical-chemical, animated and fiery; a free-thinking agitator who enjoys scuba diving.

These two Bloomberg School professors in Environmental Health Sciences share history, lab space and, different as they are, a singular mindset. The pair esteems cancer prevention over treatment. They also put a premium on relationship and mentorship. It’s not at all unusual for them to share first authorship of scientific papers with students and colleagues.

Cases in point: Check out their 2014 paper about a clinical trial involving a broccoli brew in Cancer Prevention Research, or their 2012 paper published in the journal China Cancer. Tellingly, the latter begins with the word “friendship.”

Friendship is a concept not often addressed in scientific papers, or cited by researchers. Indeed, Kensler’s and Groopman’s focus on it is almost as rare as the wildly successful cancer prevention clinical trial they recently conducted in China. And almost as rare as an argument-free 40-year relationship—a phenomenon that each, independently, attests to.

Eighty combined years’ worth of expertise and painstaking data collection backs up this duo’s conviction that food-based strategies—a broccoli sprout brew, for instance—can intervene in how the body handles environmental assaults known to cause cancer.

Colleagues close to the pair have observed that in an enduring friendship that is mutually nurturing, Groopman and Kensler may have found the holy grail of cancer prevention: that is, partnership seems likely to be a key to success in this complicated field marked by long-standing principles yet little progress.

—Maryalice Yakutchik

Read the full-length story in Johns Hopkins Public Health.

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