University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Talk on 'Butt Cancer' Tackles Taboo with Humor to Win 2018 Postdoc Slam

By Nina Bai | | October 2, 2018

Talk on 'Butt Cancer' Tackles Taboo with Humor to Win 2018 Postdoc Slam

Sona Chowdhury, PhD, delivers her winning talk at the 2018 Postdoc Slam competition on Sept. 26. Photo by Susan Merrell

A talk about a little-talked-about topic won the top prize at the 2018 Postdoc Slam.

Many people do not know that the same virus that causes cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), can also infect the skin of the anus and lead to anal cancer, said Sona Chowdhury, PhD, a UC San Francisco postdoctoral scholar.

“To prevent anal cancer, we need to talk about the butt,” said Chowdhury, who packed in science, humor, and a call to action in her winning three-minute talk titled, “But, the ‘Butt Cancer’ that No One Talks About.”

Chowdury, who works with faculty mentor Joel Palefsky, MD, was one of 10 UCSF postdocs who competed to explain complex research in simple language – and in three minutes or less – in the third annual Postdoc Slam held Sept. 26. The live competition took place in a packed Byers Auditorium in Mission Bay and was also livestreamed to the Parnassus campus.

The talks’ topics ranged from the uterus’s role in healthy pregnancy, to the genetic basis of Parkinson’s disease, to the health impacts of social media.

In addition to taking home the $3,000 prize for first place, Chowdury also won the People’s Choice award, with a prize of $750, which was voted on by the audience at both viewing locations.

Chowdury explained how HPV disrupts the function of key microRNAs, leading to cancer. She compared a microRNA to a conductor “orchestrating genes in perfect harmony” and HPV to a disruptive heckler.

Precancerous cells have been found to have low levels of a certain microRNA and restoring that microRNA may be able to prevent anal cancer, said Chowdury – but, that depends on opening the conversation on anal cancer and encouraging early detection.