By Contributing Writer - December 20, 2018
“I don’t think there is any way to envision anything that exciting!” Jhanelle E. Gray, MD, says she never dreamed she would be working at a faraway place like Tianjin, China. And it’s not as if Gray has never traveled. The Jamaican native has lived in New York and South Florida, and has traveled to Europe, Australia and Asia to attend medical conferences.
But her recent trip to China made quite an impression. Gray was among the Moffitt team visiting the International Personalized Cancer Center (IPCC) in Tianjin to help develop personalized cancer care. The trip culminated years of planning and marked the beginning of future collaborations. This first team to visit Tianjin specializes in thoracic oncology. In addition to Gray, team members included surgeon Robert Keenan, radiation oncologist Thomas Dilling, along with nurse researcher Tina Mason, Daniel Sullivan, MD, Sheng Wei, MD, and Catie Wiernasz, RN, MSN.
A medical oncologist focused on patient care, Gray heads up the clinical research team for thoracic oncology trials at Moffitt. She says the trip to Tianjin has further expanded her horizons. With impressive infrastructure and “absolutely cutting edge care,” Gray says, “if you are in China, the IPCC is where you want to go for cancer treatment.”
“Clinical research is all about a global approach, a more international approach,” said Gray. “We tend to be very U.S.- centric, and I think it is good to go out with an open mind, see how things are done at other sites, and bring back what you’ve learned, impart what you know. Both sites have a collaborative environment and now we need to act.”
This is about building friendships and setting the foundation for future collaborations.
For example, there is opportunity to learn about how tumors develop and respond to treatment, based on mutations less frequently seen in the United States. In China, the patient population has a higher prevalence of EGFR [epidermal growth factor receptor]-mutant non-small cell lung cancer, notes Gray. This mutation occurs in about 60 percent of the patients in China; whereas the mutation occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population.
“So even though both institutions treat lung cancer, the patient population differs,” said Gray. “Within the EGFR-mutant population are areas where we can learn things from China as they also have a vast database.”
Gray had barely returned home before she began planning a collaborative clinical trial to study the impact on sequential immunotherapy and radiation therapy that will be open at Moffitt as well as at the IPCC in China. It will be her first clinical trial shared between Moffitt and the IPCC.
Gray’s life could have taken a different path. As an undergraduate, she majored in chemistry with a backup plan to be a chemical engineer if she did not get into medical school. She completed medical school as well as an internship and residency at Cornell University Medical College in New York where she has “lots of family,” followed by a fellowship at Moffitt in 2004. She has been a faculty member at Moffitt Cancer Center since 2007.
Planning, determination and flexibility have helped propel Gray’s personal life and career forward.
“I’ve been very blessed with doing what I love.”
Asked what advice she would give to another physician, researcher or medical professional if offered the opportunity to go to Tianjin or elsewhere outside the U.S. to work in collaboration, Gray immediately replied, “I would say 100 percent go! Absolutely! You learn so much. Be open-minded and absorb. I think I’m so much better off for having gone and obtained a better grasp of what’s going on in another part of the world. The true vision here is to extend our global impact through collaborations.”
(Editor’s Note: As this edition of Momentum was published, Dr. Gray was appointed co-leader of the Chemical Biology & Molecular Medicine Program at Moffitt. The Program integrates chemical biology and systems biology technologies to develop new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer.)
This article is part of Moffitt Momentum® magazine, a publication that shares portraits of hope, innovation and triumph, all leading to the same end: beating cancer. Click here to access the full issue of the magazine in PDF format.