Stephen Baylin

Cancer Research

Self Exam

  • Occupation: Cancer Scientist
  • Alternative career choice: Would have loved to have been a musician or a journalist if I could still be a cancer scientist!
  • What do rock stars and scienctists have in common: They approach their careers with passion, dedication and persistence – and success depends on all of these plus the degree of their creative talents.
  • Musical Instrument I Play: Guitar & Piano
  • I tend to approach life: With love for the endeavor and all the wonders life offers, including, the joy of my family and for the satisfaction that science brings me.
  • Biggest misconceptions about me or my work: That so many scientists don't love multiple aspects of life in concert with the passion they have for their work.
  • Worst part-time job ever: Washing glassware in a lab rather than eventually participating in the science!
  • Longest med school study session: There were many consisting of overnight study sessions.
  • Best moment in medicine/research: This will be the next one to come in terms of seeing patients respond to therapies based on concepts developed in the lab and the next promise of an exciting breakthrough for understanding cancer. Scientists and rock stars should look forward!

About My Research

Disease Area: I am a cancer biologist who is leading an effort in the Stand Up To Cancer to bring epigenetic therapy to the forefront of cancer management.

Research Area: I am a cancer biologist who leads an effort to understand the origins and consequences of epigenetic abnormalities in multiple human cancer types.

Science Impact/Accomplishments or Goal: We have fostered the concept that DNA hypermethylation of genes, and associated transcriptional silencing, can serve as an alternative to mutations for producing losses of key gene functions. We have defined some of the classic genes involved, invented approaches to randomly screen for such genes, and demonstrated the importance of such genes in cancer progression. We are also helping to unravel the molecular mechanisms responsible for the above abnormal gene silencing. Finally, we are helping to drive the concept that reversal of the epigenetic abnormalities we are studying will provide a new and robust strategy for the treatment of major cancer types. Regarding the above work, and others areas of cancer biology, our group has authored or co-authored over 375 full-length publications.

Research Description: For the last 20 years, I, along with my colleagues, have studied the role of epigenetic gene silencing in the initiation and progression of human cancer. Our goals are to define the mechanisms that cause these abnormalities, to define the genes involved, to derive approaches to randomly screen for such genes, and to demonstrate their functional role in cancer progression. Ultimately, we wish utilize all of our findings for the translational purposes of preventing and treating cancer in new ways.


“Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., is the Deputy Director of The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins and the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor of Oncology and Medicine. He is Chief of the Cancer Biology Division and Associate Director for Research of the Center.

Born in 1942 in Durham, North Carolina, Baylin attended Duke University, and earned his medical degree at its Medical School, where he completed his internship and first year residency in Internal Medicine. Then he worked for two years at the National Heart and Lung Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1971 he joined the departments of Oncology and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, an affiliation that still continues.

His research interests include cellular biology and genetics of cancer, specifically epigenetics or genetic modifications other than those in DNA that can affect cell behavior, and silencing of tumor suppressor genes and tumor progression. His research also includes the mechanisms through which variations in tumor cells derive, and cell differentiation in cancers such as medullary thyroid carcinoma and small cell lung carcinoma. In 2009, Baylin was recognized by ScienceWatch.com as the most highly-cited scientist in the field of epigenetics. He and colleague Dr. James Herman occupy the top two spots on the citations list, which is a measure for scientific impact and influence.

For the last 20 years, Baylin and colleagues have studied the role of epigenetic gene silencing in the initiation and progression of human cancer. His work has emphasized the concept that, from initiation to progression, cancer is an epigenetic, not only a genetic disease. The studies define gene DNA hypermethylation and associated transcriptional silencing as an alternative to mutations for gene inactivation. Baylin and colleagues have been developing the translational implications of their work. They collaborate in studies aimed at deriving and implementing cancer biomarkers and therapeutic strategies for cancer. This work adds to the understanding of cancer biology, but the potential of the translational implications is to improve screening, diagnostic, prevention, and therapeutic approaches to cancer.

Baylin has served as a member of committees of the American Cancer Society and of the NIH, and has authored or co-authored more than 350 publications. His honors include the 1990 Edwin Astwood Lectureship of the Endocrine Society, the 2003 Jack Shultz Memorial Lecture in Genetics, Fox Chase Cancer Center, The 2004 National Investigator of the Year Award from the NCI SPORE program, The 2004 2nd Annual Sydney E. Salmon Lectureship in Translational Research, Arizona Cancer Center, the 2005 Jack Gibson Visiting Professorship, University of Hong Kong Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, the 2005 Shubitz Cancer Research Prize from the University of Chicago, the 2008 Raffaele Tecce Memorial Lecture, Rome, Italy, the 2008 David Workman Memorial Award from the Waxman Foundation, and the 2010 14th NCI Alfred G. Knudson Award in Cancer Genetics. Baylin along with his colleague Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the University of Southern California/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, recently received the Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for basic and translational cancer research.

Baylin has served on the American Association for Cancer Research’s Board of Directors from 2004 -2007 and is an associate editor of Cancer Research. He has also been very active in AACR conferences, chairing the special conference on “DNA Methylation, Imprinting and the Epigenetics of Cancer,” and speaking at conferences on “Oncogenomics,” “Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics,” “Epigenetics of Cancer,” and “Cancer: The Interface Between Basic and Applied Research.””