From exploring cells to helping researchers, HHS distinguished alumna advances cancer research

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa,

Banner with a headshot of Lynn Adams that says "Lynn S. Adams, Distinguished Alumni Award"

From studying animal science to elevating cancer research to helping health science investigators, Purdue University Department of Nutrition Science alumna Lynn Adams has always had one goal in mind: to make an impact. As a program director in the Outcomes Research Branch in the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, Adams helps researchers as they secure National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to unlock new cancer knowledge and treatments.

“I wanted to make a bigger impact,” Adams said. “Working in animal (science) was fine, but I thought working with people and helping to improve lives was more important. The thing about cancer is it’s a hard problem; we haven’t solved it. We really needed people working on the problem of cancer.”

Five women pose for a photo, smiling

Adams (left) poses with colleagues from the National Institute for Nursing Research after having led a delegation to the White House to discuss arts-based approaches to palliative care.(Photo provided)

Adams is being recognized with the 2024 Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences for her significant accomplishments at the National Institutes of Health and her leadership within health research.

“I didn’t plan to be where I am now — I took opportunities where I saw them, even if they were out of my comfort zone,” Adams said. “It’s great to be recognized and for people to remember me from my time at Purdue. It’s a great honor.”

Adams earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of New Hampshire and began her career working in consumer affairs at Heinz Pet Products in Newport, Kentucky. It was there that she established her interest in nutrition and its effects on health.

“I just got really interested in the use of natural products to help with diseases, and I actually spent a lot of time on the floor below me with the PhD nutritionists,” Adams said. “I was interested in what they were doing, so I ended up helping them with their work. One day, one of them walked by my desk and dropped a flyer for graduate school into my inbox, so I took the hint and applied.”

Adams went on to earn her PhD at Purdue in the Department of Nutrition Science, where she worked in Professor Dorothy Teegarden’s lab studying the impact of nutritional components on cancer. She later advanced her research at UCLA as a postdoctoral fellow and elevated it further at City of Hope as a research fellow. Adams focused on cell signaling and preclinical tumor growth/metastasis studies as she explored the anti-cancer properties in foods such as pomegranates, berries and mushrooms.

“I was looking at preventing recurrence of cancer,” Adams said. “I was always interested in holistic approaches. I didn’t want to pull apart the foods— I wanted to be able to tell people what they can eat that might help.”

Lynn Adams stands in front of the U.S. Capitol building.

Adams, then an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow, takes a photo in front of the U.S. Capitol.(Photo provided)

After working at City of Hope for five years, Adams became a Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which paved the way for her job as program director at the National Institute of Nursing Research for eight years prior to her current role at NCI.

“I started to realize that as much as I loved research, I liked helping other people with their research more,” Adams said. “I was looking at tiny little cell-signaling pathways within one cancer cell, and that was cool, but I just felt like I could do more.”

Adams noted that helping others advance their research has been a highlight in her career, as she assists researchers worldwide navigate the NIH grants process and oversees their research progress.

“My favorite part of the job is talking to investigators,” Adams said. “When you do research, especially research like I was doing that’s very focused, it’s kind of fun to talk about science to investigators around the world who are the top of the top in their field. Through my job, I get to see the widest view of the field that you can.”

As Adams continues to shape international cancer research, she looks back at her career as a winding road, pleased with where it’s led her.

“Sometimes, you don’t always know where you’re going to land,” Adams said.