In Memoriam: Elaine Ron


Bruce A. Napier, CHP

In mid-November 2010 in Chelyabinsk, Russia, at the 4th International Conference on Chronic Radiation Exposure: Low-Dose Effects, a couple of hundred scientists from around the world took the time to sign a copy of the conference book of abstracts with notes of encouragement for Elaine Ron, who could not attend because of illness. We regret that the book was not delivered in time for Elaine to read it; she passed away 20 November in Bethesda, Maryland, from cancer.

Elaine was a friend and coworker of many in the Health Physics Society. She was a senior investigator for the Radiation Epidemiology Branch (REB) at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Elaine started in history and political science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, received an MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health, and finished with a PhD in epidemiology from the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine. She conducted postdoctoral research at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Israel. She joined the NCI as a visiting associate in 1986, spent a year at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1991, and was chief of the REB from 1997 to 2002. She received the NIH Director’s Award and the NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG) Exemplary Service Award and served as the women scientists’ advisor for DCEG. She served on numerous expert radiation committees, including Committee 1 of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the Scientific Council of the International Agency for Cancer Research, and the Public Health Committee of the American Thyroid Association.

Elaine was a leading expert in radiation epidemiology and in the causes of thyroid cancer. Her earliest epidemiological work in Israel identified long-term cancer effects of radiation treatment for tinea capitis (a fungal infection of the scalp) at radiation doses lower than then expected. Dr. Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., MD, DCEG director, noted that “her interests included studies of the atomic bomb survivors in Japan, residents of the former Soviet Union exposed to the radioactive compounds from the Chernobyl accident, and patients exposed to diagnostic and therapeutic radiation. In addition to addressing the biological mechanisms of disease, Dr. Ron was keenly focused on public health and policy implications of her research.” Her scientific achievements included the largest study of cancer risks among patients treated with radioactive iodine for hyperthyroidism and the first international effort to pool epidemiologic data on thyroid cancer. She recently launched a major investigation into the potential adverse effects of CT screening among children and young adults.

Elaine was author or coauthor of over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles. To gauge the impact that her work has had on the understanding of long-term radiation effects on people, scan the table of contents of the December 2010 issue of the journal Radiation Research, which contains four articles cowritten by Elaine and several others prepared by her coworkers. Her efforts have caused many of us to refocus on the “protection” in radiation protection.

Elaine had great warmth and humor and was quite forthright when she thought she saw injustice or discrimination (including towards those of us in what she considered to be the old-boys network at the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements). We will miss her.

Elaine is survived by her son, Ariel Ron, of Oakland, California.