Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez Joins Prestigious Occupational and Environmental Health Organization
Alberto Caban-Martinez, Ph.D., D.O., M.P.H., has been inducted as a fellow in the Collegium Ramazzini, a prestigious international scientific organization focused on occupational and environmental disease prevention. As a fellow, Dr. Caban-Martinez, deputy director of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative, joins eminent physicians and scientists from around the world to advance occupational and environmental health.
“Occupational health is a branch of public health that focuses on keeping people healthy and safe in their workplaces,” said Dr. Caban-Martinez, who is also associate provost for research integrity, regulatory affairs and assessment at the University of Miami, deputy director of the M.D./M.P.H. program, and vice-chair for research in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Miller School of Medicine. “For example, how can we remake the work environment to prevent people from getting colon cancer or prostate cancer? We’re trying to understand and intervene on hazardous exposures in the workplace that cause disease.”
The organization is named after Dr. Bernardino Ramazzini (1633–1714), the father of occupational medicine and one of the first to embrace the scientific method. Through his research, Ramazzini learned that some occupations were at greater risk for specific diseases and adjusted his medical practice accordingly.
Dr. Caban-Martinez and colleagues continue these efforts by closely investigating workplace environments. What kinds of chemical exposures do workers face? Are there emotional stressors that can increase the risk for cancer? Do workers get enough sleep?
“Our research teams often visit workplaces to observe how workers are doing their jobs,” said Dr. Caban-Martinez. “Our current research focuses on the firefighter workforce and cancer prevention—conducting ride-alongs, spending the night at fire stations, and going on calls with them to see what they experience during medical or fire responses.”
Understanding Stressors That Can Drive Disease
These visits help occupational medicine practitioners better understand the environmental conditions that can drive disease. First responders often deliver patients to an emergency department, but nobody knows what kinds of toxins they might have encountered along the way.
The COVID-19 pandemic had an enormous impact on first responders’ physical and emotional health, but there are many other issues. For example, each time an alarm goes off, it rings throughout the station. However, depending on the nature of the call, only some workers actually need to respond.
“Understanding how physical and mental stressors at the workplace contribute to cancer and overall firefighter health and safety is paramount,” said Dr. Caban-Martinez. “Imagine you’re asleep, you’re going through your REM cycle, and suddenly there’s a blaring alarm that doesn’t even pertain to you. Fire stations were designed to get people up and going, but there are workplace adaptations that can make the space safer and more efficient.”
Sharing Research Internationally
Dr. Caban-Martinez’s induction into the Collegium Ramazzini will provide new opportunities to share Sylvester’s firefighter cancer research and learn from other occupational medicine physicians and scientists. Each year, the organization holds a Ramazzini Days symposium, which showcases research from around the world. This year’s event was held in late October in Carpi, Italy, home of the Collegium Ramazzini, and covered many issues.
One major problem being investigated by collegium fellows affects agricultural workers in Central America, who have a much higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease, though nobody knows why. Dr. Caban-Martinez looks forward to bringing new information and innovative research approaches on firefighter cancer control and prevention back to Sylvester.
“This induction as fellow has been a humbling and invigorating experience,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to protect people at their place of work, and sometimes it takes years of research to figure out what to actually do. The physicians and scientists in the collegium are world leaders in occupational and environmental health, and I feel honored to just be around them.”