What is your hometown?
How/when did you become interested in science and medicine?
I always wanted to know how things worked when I was growing up. When I was in grade school we lived near a Honeywell store and I was frequently digging through their trash bins and bringing home motors and switches to take apart. It wasn’t until college that I began to think about studying medicine, mainly as a way to guide my research in more meaningful health-related directions.
What interested you to pursue a career in medicine and medical education?
My first real exposure to the failings of medicine was in my early teens when I experienced the death of a friend’s brother from leukemia at age 5. Subsequently I was aware of a number of people in my neighborhood diagnosed with cancer. Because of my interest in how things work, I saw these problems as challenges to understand and solve. During my medical training I was further fascinated by the diversity of disease processes and by how much is not yet known.
What interested you to specialize in cancer research?
As opposed to many subspecialties that are organ-based, cancer involves all organs and for that matter all ages. In addition, there are a wide variety of cancer types, and each patient is different. These features make the field of cancer and cancer research constantly challenging. A major attraction of cancer research is the variety of molecular mechanisms underlying cancer pathogenesis and the potential for innovative molecular therapies.
Please highlight your major career achievements, awards, discoveries, etc.
During my PhD and post-doctoral work I uncovered some of the mechanisms of tissue-specific gene expression underlying the tissue tropism of human papillomavirus and a role of chaperones in the assembly of other small DNA tumor viruses. My early interest in virology has merged with my later interest in cancer therapeutics, so more recently I have discovered the effectiveness of oncolytic Herpes virus vectors for solid tumors, particularly childhood sarcomas. My hope is to develop this innovative virotherapy into a new weapon against these diseases.
Is there a teacher, mentor or Carver College of Medicine faculty member who has helped shape your education?
Lubos Turek, PhD, was my PhD mentor and provided me a broad framework of philosophy and strategies for conducting research that have continued to be useful over the years. Frank Morriss, MD, provided me unparalleled opportunities to continue my research efforts while receiving clinical pediatric training, and thus set the stage for me to balance and integrate research with clinical practice.
How or why did you choose the UI for your education and medical training?
I was attracted by the strong MD-PhD program, with its interdisciplinary research training opportunities.
What kind of professional opportunities or advantages has your UI medical training provided?
The MD-PhD training I received has opened many doors throughout my career. The biggest advantage has been the ability to have legitimacy in both medical and research worlds. I have been able to cultivate translational research by being able to effectively bring human samples to the research lab for study, and bring findings from the research lab into the clinical trial setting.
Please describe your professional interests?
The development of biologic therapies for cancer. I have a particular clinical interest in patients with bone and soft tissue sarcomas.
What are some of your outside interests?
I coach youth lacrosse in the spring and until my recent knee surgery enjoyed running, having completed 2 marathons recently. Now I think I’ll take up biking. Most of my time is spent as a taxi driver for my kids.
Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?
“Hope dies last.” Even if the odds are stacked against the patient, or against the experiment in the lab, it is important to leave no stone unturned and pursue with passion avenues that seem to have potential.
What is the most gratifying part of your area of research?
The fact that it is translational, and therefore gives hope to patients and families that it might improve their outcome or the outcome of future patients.
If you could change one thing about the practice or business of medicine, what would it be?
The fact that insurance reimbursements (Medicare and private) dictate how we practice medicine. It should still be the doctor that determines what tests and what length of hospitalization etc are necessary for the patient.
What is the biggest change you've experienced in medicine since you were a student?
Emphasis on safety. We know have to write chemotherapy orders at least 24 hours before administration that get multiple checks and co-signatures.
What one piece of advice you would give to today's medical students?
Seek successful, supportive mentors throughout your career, especially at the junior faculty level.
What do you see as "the future" of the medicine?
Personalized predictive medicine. At birth, the infant will get a buccal swab that is inserted into a machine and the genetic risks for disease and drug responses will be known. Patients and families can then be counseled regarding appropriate risk-avoidance behaviors. When a disease is encountered, therapy wil be tailored for the individual based on genetic polymorphisms.
More specifically, what do you see as “the future” of cancer research or treatment?
I foresee the convergence of two areas: gene or virotherapy and targeted therapies. Both of these promise to be more effective than current therapies and cause fewer side effects. Both fields are in their infancy, so there are decades of work ahead exploring their utility alone and in combination as new, improved vectors and compounds are developed.
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