“Team Moffitt” Welcomes New Research Recruits
Moffitt Cancer Center’s culture and organizational structure underscore a basic value: collaboration and interdisciplinary teamwork. Our impact on cancer research spans basic science, prevention and clinical research with a focus on translating discoveries into better care. And our inclusive and flexible structure supports faculty members from a variety of disciplines as they work together to develop innovative ideas into moving science and understanding forward.
Our aim is to recruit the best and the brightest who will team up with us against cancer. Let’s meet three of the new research recruits who joined Moffitt in 2013.
Building Mathematical Models Of Breast Cancer Tumors
Coming to Tampa by way of Germany, Scotland and Boston, Heiko Enderling, Ph.D.
, assistant member in the Department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology at Moffitt, can hardly believe it is December as he rides his bicycle every morning in the warm winter sun on his way to work. What he does believe is that he is now where he wants to be, plying his mathematical skills to help achieve Moffitt’s mission “to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.”
Caption: This mathematical model is a simulation of tumor growth and cell cycle arrest. Each pixel represents a single cell. The left part of the tumor is color-coded for phenotype, with cancer stem cells being orange, and non-stem cancer cells brown. The right part of the tumor is color-coded for mitotic activity, with actively proliferating cells being green and cell cycle arrested cells being blue.
“If it were not for this opportunity at Moffitt, I would be in a department of mathematics somewhere writing papers that no one would ever read,” says Dr. Enderling with a smile.
After he completed his doctoral work in applied mathematics at the University of Dundee in Dundee, Scotland, with his mentor Alexander R.A. Anderson, Ph.D.
, now senior member at Moffitt and chair of the Department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology
, Dr. Enderling served a six-year postdoctoral stint at Tufts University School of Medicine.
He came to Moffitt this past summer to continue his work at building mathematical models of glioblastoma and other solid tumors to better understand how they grow and how they respond to treatment. While others have been using mathematical models to better understand how tumors generally respond to chemotherapy, Dr. Enderling wants to know specifically how glioblastoma responds to radiotherapy.
“It’s all about finding and testing parameters,” says Dr. Enderling, whose research interests lie in discovering the biological parameters of specific tumors, such as how fast cancer cells migrate or how much “food” they need, and then plugging new parameters into his computerized, mathematical models. With each new validated parameter, his models become more precise.
His research adds to the new frontier in cancer research at Moffitt that began with the establishment of the Department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology under Dr. Anderson’s leadership several years ago. Their efforts to find predictive and therapeutic potential in mathematical models includes finding models to better understand how tumors can be made to stay dormant for long periods of time, an approach called “adaptive therapy.”
His work also adds to what is called “personalized medicine,” an approach to cancer treatment that relies on a patient’s own genetic and phenotypic makeup, or other individual factors, to determine how that patient’s cancer should best be treated and which clinical trials may be most appropriate.
Moffitt’s Quest To Personalize Care Takes A Forward Step
When Moffitt’s Institute for Personalized Medicine was created several years ago by William S. Dalton, Ph.D., M.D.
, Moffitt’s CEO at that time, the goals were the advancement of the concept of “the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time” and the expansion of Moffitt’s Total Cancer Care® program, which biobanks patient tumor samples and collects other important patient data for use in clinical trials and treatment.
Moffitt’s pursuit of a more comprehensive personalized approach to cancer care took a leap forward in September 2013 when Howard McLeod, Pharm.D.
, joined Moffitt as the new medical director of the DeBartolo Family Personalized Medicine Institute. Dr. McLeod, who previously served as the founding director of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Institute for Pharmacogenomics and Individualized Therapy, is the center’s first cancer research endowed chair, as established by the Florida Legislature.
“Moffitt is a place where we can not only practice personalized medicine, but also test better methods for doing personalized medicine,” explains Dr. McLeod. “The goal is to figure out how to treat patients with a more individualized approach by carefully and objectively choosing from a ‘buffet’ of treatment possibilities.”
Moffitt is third in the nation by patient volume. “There is no reason why Moffitt can’t be the third best in research and reputation,” he says. “Clinically we are already there, but we can also be third best, or even better, when it comes to research.”
This can be accomplished, he says, because “people know why they are here - it’s to help cancer patients.” There are extraordinary researchers here who want to do personalized medicine, he adds. “Clinical leadership at Moffitt wants to practice personalized medicine, and that’s why I was drawn here. Together, we can do phenomenal things.”
He credits the firm foundation provided by Dr. Dalton and sees a future through which new endpoints for research may be selected. Those new endpoints may be of interest to patients, their physicians, or researchers, or all three. “I want to help carry on the mission,” says Dr. McLeod. “My focus is to implement science.”
Gillian Bell, Pharm.D., comes to Moffitt from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Her area of interest is “pharmacogenetics,” the science of exploring how genetic differences affect an individual’s responses to drugs, both in their therapeutic effect and in their potential for causing adverse effects. St. Jude was unique, she says, in that genetic markers were collected on nearly every pediatric patient coming into the hospital’s system. With a desire to continue similar work in oncology, Dr. Bell, who received her Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Memphis, came to Moffitt in the fall of 2013 to do both pharmacogenetics and “implementation science.” She will be examining the flow of treatment at Moffitt and looking for ways to better integrate the most efficient and efficacious clinical practices into patient care.
While much of Dr. Bell's work focuses on education and clinical decision support, she will be working with Moffitt’s Clinical Pathways Program, a program by which the best treatment pathways are discovered and implemented, and working as well with those involved in Moffitt’s Health and Research Informatics (HRI) platform through which patient data are collected, analyzed and implemented into cancer research and care.
“My focus will be point-of-care clinical decision support,” says Dr. Bell. “That means taking the beneficial discoveries and clinical trials results and integrating them into practice.”
Among other projects, she will be working to get the results of genetic tests and other important information entered into the patient electronic medical records so that records can be programmed with on-screen alerts (not unlike those flags on your neighborhood pharmacist’s computer that identify drug interactions or allergies) to help clinicians make decisions about an individual’s care and, at the same time, working toward personalizing care based on clinical evidence. Additionally, Dr. Bell will be working closely with Dr. McLeod in the DeBartolo Family Personalized Medicine Institute.