Rick Kittles, PhD

Director of Population Genetics
Professor of Surgery and Public Health
Arizona Health Sciences Center
University of Arizona




Rick Kittles received a B.S. in Biology from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1989 and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from George Washington University in 1998. He then went to Howard University where he helped establish the National Human Genome Center at Howard University. From 1997 to 2004, Dr. Kittles helped establish and coordinate a national cooperative network to study the genetics of hereditary prostate cancer in the African American community. This project, called the AAHPC study network, successfully recruited over 100 multiplex African American hereditary prostate cancer families and serves as a model for recruitment of African Americans in genetic studies of complex diseases.


Studies have suggested that prostate cancer risk is largely determined by gene and environmental interactions. Increased attention has focused on Vitamin D3 and prostate cancer risk, because of its influence on prostate cell division and inhibition of proliferation. However, the metabolism and physiological actions of the vitamin vary and are modified by genetic and environmental factors such as ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure, skin color, diet and genes involved in Vitamin D synthesis, metabolism and action. Dr. Kittles is presently funded by the NIMHD/ NIH to study genetic and environmental modifiers of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in order to improve our understanding of the role serum Vitamin D plays in prostate cancer disparities. It is likely that this work will contribute to better treatment options and more focused prevention strategies.


Dr. Kittles is well known for his research of prostate cancer and health disparities among African Americans. He has also been at the forefront of the development of ancestry-informative genetic markers, and how genetic ancestry can be used to map genes for common traits and disease. Dr. Kittle's work in 2002 on CYP3A4 genetic variants and prostate cancer risk was the first to show that population stratification due to admixture could be a major problem in genetic association studies of AAs. Dr. Kittles’ lab has worked extensively on the use of genetic markers to estimate ancestry among African Americans and Latinos.


Dr. Kittles serves on many national and international steering committees and advisory boards. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC) for the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI/NIH) and as Council Chair-Elect Designate (2014-2015) of the Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR) of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).