Two Young Researchers Share Their Work And Why They Joined Moffitt

Where You Are:

Heiko Enderling, Ph.D.

Heiko EnderlingAssistant Member, Integrated Mathematical Oncology Program

What is your area of research?

As a computer scientist and mathematician, I work on developing clinically and experimentally motivated quantitative models of cell-cell interactions within a tumor as well as at the tumor-host interface. The work in my laboratory focuses on the role of cancer stem cells in tumor progression and treatment response, with the ultimate goal to improve patient-specific treatment design.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am working on predicting the response of malignant glioblastoma to fractionated irradiation. Using so-called agent-based models, we define what single cancer cells do in different environmental conditions and then simulate the interactions of cells during tumor growth. As we unveil the complex cell-cell and cell-environment interactions, we aim to predict the response of single cells and the tumor population as a whole to irradiation. The ultimate aim will then be to perform in silico clinical trials to design treatment schedules that best counteract tumor progression. 

In a different project, we are working towards understanding how and why some tumors remain benign and do not advance into malignancy – a state called dormancy. If we understand the kinetics underlying tumor dormancy, novel treatments might be developed to prevent aggressive growth and keep tumors in a non-clinical stage.

Why did you choose to work at Moffitt Cancer Center?

Moffitt Cancer Center is encouraging team science and interdisciplinary research. It’s also home to the Integrated Mathematical Oncology Department. Department chair Dr. Alexander Anderson is a visionary leader in calibrating and validating theoretical models with experimental data to derive predictive models that generate biologically and clinically testable hypotheses. After spending many years of building quantitative models, I look forward to work closely with experimentalists and clinicians here at Moffitt to verify some of these models. I hope that over the next few years we will be able to train our treatment response model with patient specific data and validate model predictions with clinical outcomes. These validated models will then be translated to support personalized treatment design.

Keiran S. Smalley, Ph.D.

Keiran S. SmalleyScientific Director, Donald A. Adam Comprehensive Melanoma Research Center of Excellence and Skin SPORE

Associate Member, Molecular Oncology Program

What is your area of research?

The focus of my research is the development of targeted therapy strategies for melanoma. The premise is very simple. We use genetic information about the tumor to define the molecular pathways that drive tumor growth and metastasis and then choose specific drugs that target these. Through this approach we can personalize the therapy to the patient, ensuring maximum therapeutic benefit while limiting side effects.

What projects are you currently working on?

One area of particular interest to our lab is a class of drugs called BRAF inhibitors. These drugs target the BRAF mutation – a genetic change that initiates and drives about 50% of all melanomas. Although patients typically respond well to these drugs, resistance is common. We are currently using cutting edge technologies such as proteomics to map all of the signaling changes that are associated with escape from these therapies and using this information to develop novel approaches that allow us to keep patients on these drugs for extended periods of time.

Why did you choose to work at Moffitt Cancer Center?

I came to Moffitt Cancer Center from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia in 2008. I was attracted by Moffitt’s commitment to personalized medicine and the potential to rapidly translate our basic science findings into the clinic. I currently work as part of a multidisciplinary team of surgeons, oncologists, pathologists and Ph.D. scientists who are all working towards a common goal of improving the lives of melanoma patients.

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