After twice reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer last spring, I was determined to focus on cancer research in the future. Since then, I have been struggling to find the right cancer type to work on. Cancer is a deep field, and it takes a lot of efforts to become a real expert on any one cancer type. The ideal cancer for us to work on should satisfy the following criteria: 1) has high incidence and death rate in both US and China; 2) DF/HCC has demonstrated research excellence such as a SPORE program; 3) I am able to find good clinical collaborators in China.
Most of my previous collaborations especially with Myles Brown and Nelly Polyak have given us a footing in breast and prostate cancer research, although these two cancers (especially prostate cancer) are not as bad in China. DFCI is famous for leukemia and lymphoma research because of Sydney Farber and we have started collaborating with Jon Aster and Stephen Blacklow. We could also potentially collaborate with the Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai which has the best leukemia research in China and are also world renowned for their acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) treatment. GI cancers, including gastric, liver, and colon cancers, are very serious in China. Epigenetic profiling and drug deliver for liver cancer is the easiest among all tumors, but DFCI is not known for liver cancer research. Lung cancer is probably the biggest cancer killer in both US and China. DFCI has an excellent lung cancer program and we could also collaborate with the Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital, although I previously had zero background in lung cancer research.
A couple of weeks ago, someone from Bill Kaelin’s laboratory at DFCI approached us for a collaboration. I started reading Kaelin’s website and papers. He has been amazingly productive with just a medium-sized lab. I know from my seminar visits that many of his former trainees are successful at various faculty positions, so he must be a very nice person and a supportive mentor. His pioneering work, such as that on E2F1, Rb, VHL, HIF, and EglN, has made quite an impact in cancer research. Interestingly, he is not focused on specific cancer types, but has been focused on tumor suppressors that function in multiple cancers, especially those that are related to cancer metabolism. This is a fairly new area for me, but both cancer metabolism and tumor suppressors are very exciting and promising. Maybe if we focus on cancer epigenetics, we don’t have to pick a specific cancer now, and could learn the different cancers on the way. Of course, it would take a lot of hard work and probably Kaelin’s genius (as told by his postdoc). At least I look forward to working with this group and learning a lot about cancer biology from them.