Zach Dunbar ’13 is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Cancer Sciences Ph.D. program at the University at Buffalo. The Cancer Sciences Program is a hands-on partnership with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Zach’s subfield is cancer prevention. His research is based on tobacco control, specifically the use of e-cigarettes. According to Zach, e-cigarettes are the most controversial tobacco product to enter the market in the past decade.
“Although these companies are promoting the idea that e-cigarette use is risk-free, our evidence suggests they emit quantifiable amounts of nicotine and formaldehyde and may not be as harmless as the manufacturers are leading their customers to believe,” said Zach.
To perform the e-cigarette research, Roswell Park uses a specialized facility that houses different machines that have been programmed to vape or smoke remotely. This allows the researchers to smoke and evaluate tobacco products in a controlled setting without breathing in second-hand smoke.
The Roswell Park research team recently partnered with the University of Rochester Medical Center to unveil a five year, $19 million dollar research program focused on evaluating flavored tobacco products.
“In the past, similar research has helped inform and promote tobacco regulations such as smoke-free restaurants and bars in New York State,” said the Horseheads, N.Y. native. “Our research team is passionate about promoting these health education campaigns to help inform the public.”
Zach’s advice? If you currently do not smoke standard cigarettes and would not smoke them, the safest option for your health is to avoid e-cigarettes.
His introduction to cancer research began when he was a student at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, N.Y. He combined his love for organic chemistry with his passion for ecological science and focused on Natural Products Chemistry – a version of biochemistry that studies drugs that naturally occur in various ecosystems.
“Most of the research I performed at ESF focused on making potential cancer therapeutic drugs out of extractions made from different subspecies of orchids,” said Zach.
Zach’s decision to attend ESF stemmed from his experience at SUNY Corning Community College. He was an ACE (Accelerated College Education Program) student, allowing him to receive his Liberal Arts and Sciences degree in one year.
“SUNY CCC helped me experiment with different coursework and discover what I really wanted to study and focus on,” said Zach. “It was a safe environment for me to explore my career options under the guidance of the professors in the STEM department.”
Zach is set to graduate from his Ph.D. program in the fall of 2019. After graduation he plans to take a post-doctoral research position at Roswell Park performing new experiments inspired by his thesis.
“The field of tobacco control is growing rapidly, so I’m excited to pursue much more research on e-cigarettes and other forms of tobacco,” said Zach. “I want to educate the next generation of tobacco control experts.”