When Dr. Ido Paz-Priel isn't working directly with children who have cancer, he spends his time trying to outwit proteins he believes are behind the proliferation of some pediatric cancers.
He describes the quest this way. In cancer, certain groups of proteins called transcription factors become deregulated through genetic mutations. As a result, these mutations create what Dr. Paz-Priel calls a 'survival pathway' for certain cancers. "Our understanding is that, in a very clever way, cancer cells?through these mutations?can maintain survival by outsmarting the normal physiology of the body," he says.
Dr. Paz-Priel's goal? To characterize the precise molecular makeup of these cells, thereby better understanding their survival pathways and, in turn, targeting them as a therapeutic approach to pediatric lymphoma and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). "The idea is to see if we can outsmart them," Dr. Paz-Priel says.
The challenging nature of the research keeps his job interesting, claims Dr. Paz-Priel. "Even miniscule progress, made over a week, is always exciting to see," he says. That's true for all scientists, but especially for physician-scientists like Dr. Paz-Priel, who is reminded daily of why his laboratory research matters. "At the end of the day, all the work in the lab should eventually translate into helping patients," he says.
When asked about the challenges of wearing two professional hats?that of physician and scientist?Dr. Paz-Priel admits "there are never enough hours in the week." And yet, he also acknowledges the benefits of his dual role. "Having a research background helps you understand and judge new therapies. Many novel agents that are coming out rely on a basic scientific understanding of their molecular targets. Possessing this knowledge allows you to employ these agents better," Dr. Paz-Priel says.
In spite of this exciting era of pediatric oncology research, Dr. Paz-Priel tempers optimism with caution. "That so many new agents have been developed over the past decade shows promise. At the same time, it shows us we have a long way to go before we can fully utilize their potential, and use them in a way that maximizes their potential," he says. "For the most part, these new agents complement and augment existing therapies. Cancer is so complex that a single approach will not be sufficient to completely eradicate it."