words by carole walker /
photograph by pete byron
he big picture in healthcare has always been important for Stephen W. Marcella, MD, MPH. In fact, after residencies in medicine as well as pediatrics — and two years studying immunology at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology at Rutgers, his alma mater — it would have been easy for Marcella to take his medical degree and head straight into private practice caring for patients one by one.
But that would have narrowed his focus too much. In fact, this doctor thinks so much bigger that he went back to school nearly a decade after his graduation from New York University School of Medicine to complete a two-year UMDNJ fellowship in healthcare services research in New Brunswick in 1997, and in 1998, earned an MPH in epidemiology from UMDNJ-School of Public Health (SPH). That year he became co-investigator and project manager in a clinical trial assessing whether prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing in clinical practice impacts mortality from prostate cancer. Working with George Rhoads, MD, MPH, professor and associate dean at SPH, he found that there was no evidence from this study that PSA testing as practiced in NJ in the late ’90s had any significant effect on prostate cancer mortality. Marcella notes that the benefits of PSA testing are still being debated. The team is now examining the data to assess whether obesity affects prostate cancer mortality.
Since then, he has headed up a Foundation of UMDNJ-sponsored study looking at racial treatment differences in colorectal cancer and their potential impact on survival discrepancies. Currently, his “Perchlorate in Breast Milk” study, funded by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, is examining this potentially toxic but ubiquitous substance, which can enter breast milk through drinking water and residue from certain vegetables. He has recruited more than 100 breast-feeding mothers from the Eric B. Chandler Health Center in New Brunswick. Measurements of the chemical in breast milk, water and urine will be completed by the CDC. Mark Robson, MD, director of the N.J. Agricultural Experiment Station at Cook College, Rutgers University, is co-investigator.
Another of his studies, funded by The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, looks at the potential for using bone mineral density as a risk marker for more aggressive prostate cancer. Marcella will use initial data on 30 participants to propose a multi-site investigation.