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Alumni Spotlight: Marvin Langston

by Bridjes O'Neil


Dr. Marvin Langston (Grad PH ’12) is an epidemiologist, a self-described “disease detective” who’s building a world where the word “cancer” loses its power and a diagnosis isn’t a death sentence.

Cancer is still the second leading cause of death in America despite progress made in recent decades. In August 2023, Langston became one of 11 researchers in the inaugural cohort of Cancer Moonshot Scholars, a program launched by President Joe Biden last year to support early-career scientists, researchers and innovators from diverse backgrounds in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences research workforce.

Headshot of Marvin Langston

The Biden administration, through the National Cancer Institute, is committing $5.4 million in the first year of these multi-year awards to support the Cancer Moonshot Scholars. These emerging leaders in cancer research and innovation will use this funding to increase prevention and early detection efforts for patients from underrepresented populations, create new treatments for all Americans, and further the nation’s expertise in addressing hard-to-treat cancers.

As a Black man, Langston aims to be at the forefront of understanding why prostate cancer disproportionately impacts his community.

Langston, assistant professor of epidemiology and population health at Stanford University, studies the epidemiology of benign and malignant prostate conditions. He says mass screening for prostate cancer has led to overdiagnosis and overtreatment in men. His project utilizes prostate-specific antigen (PSA)-based stratified screening to optimize early detection efforts. Under this approach, he and his research team will determine if screening should be initiated earlier and more frequently in men, particularly Black men, with higher baseline age-specific PSA levels.

“The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is the preeminent screening guideline agency, has not yet recommended this approach because they say more long-term studies are needed to validate previous results. That’s where our project comes in,” he said.

As an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, Langston knew he wanted to do something in the allied health space, but he wasn’t sure what. His interest in epidemiology was piqued after a year studying abroad in France, where he observed stark contrasts between the country’s public health system and the one in the United States.

Langston began his journey at Saint Louis University as a graduate research assistant at the Prevention Research Center, a collaboration between Washington University in St. Louis and SLU that bridges research, practice and policy to improve community health and achieve equity.

After earning a master’s degree in public health, Langston went on to pursue a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of Arizona’s College of Public Health and a post-doctoral fellowship in cancer prevention and control at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

Langston was a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente of Northern California before assuming his role in academia.

Reflecting on the SLU faculty mentors who gave him opportunities to engage in research and his current position at Stanford, he said, “It’s crucial to have folks that look like myself in the academic setting, teaching and mentoring the next generation of epidemiologists.”