My work has been carried out in the Hunterian Neurosurgical Research Laboratory led by Henry Brem and Betty Tyler. While our laboratory is primarily focused on developing therapeutics for brain tumors, we saw an opportunity to expand our work to head and neck cancer in order to meet a significant clinical need. This project demonstrated that the FDA-approved antiviral drug ribavirin has a potent anti-tumor effect in vitro and in vivo in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), a malignancy with a propensity for metastasis and a prominent lack of available targeted therapies. We showed that ribavirin’s effects were mediated by modulating four protein targets known to play important roles in NPC cancer biology. Our work provides a foundation for clinical evaluation of ribavirin in NPC.
Questions & Answers
Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?
I was initially drawn to Johns Hopkins due to its rich history of clinical and scientific excellence, particularly regarding innovation in the surgical sciences. I soon came to realize that the greatest part about Hopkins is its people. There is a contagious sense of enthusiasm and passion in every member of the Hopkins community. It is a highly collaborative atmosphere filled with fantastic mentors who are passionate about their work and shaping the careers of others.
What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?
I am grateful for receiving this award, and it is a great motivator for me to continue this work and eventually lead my own laboratory as a surgeon-scientist. However, I really see it as a testament to the incredible team and mentorship that we have in our laboratory. We have a phenomenal, highly collaborative group committed to making discoveries that will ultimately benefit patients. Paul Ehrlich pioneered the concepts of chemotherapy and a “magic bullet”; this award in his name feels particularly fitting, as our project’s premise involves specifically targeted therapy in a cancer with significant clinical need.
What contributed to your project’s success?
Our project’s success was due in large part to the leadership and guidance of phenomenal mentors in the Hunterian lab, including Henry Brem, Betty Tyler and Nicolas Skuli. I have also benefited greatly from peer mentorship from fellow medical students who became close friends. This project was a collaboration with the Head and Neck Cancer Research Laboratory at Johns Hopkins; their team was instrumental in its success. Finally, we’re fortunate to have a highly productive and cohesive team that is passionate about its work and invested in each other’s success. We have a lot of fun in the lab and never feel like we’re “working” at all.
What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?
It is a privilege to care for patients on the hospital wards and to search for cures for their ailments in the laboratory. Clinically, I particularly enjoyed my surgery rotation and was inspired by the profound impact that surgeons can have on patients’ lives during particularly vulnerable moments. Scientifically, this project has been especially memorable. It was rewarding to see it through from an initial hypothesis to complete fruition. During this process, I came to truly appreciate the uniquely collaborative atmosphere at Hopkins. From the day I first introduced the project idea, there were enthusiastic people ready to support it and help however possible to make it happen. I hope that this support and our work will ultimately benefit patients afflicted with this disease.
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and went to college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where I became an avid fan of UNC basketball. Before medical school, I spent a year working in health care consulting in Washington, D.C., followed by a year of research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I enjoy playing soccer and basketball, practicing piano, traveling and spending time with friends and family.