Take Charge

Research Spotlight: Dr. Gonzalez Aims to Improve Quality of Life for Patients

May 11, 2017

Brian-Gonzalez-640.jpg

While you are a newer faculty member at Moffitt, you are no stranger to the institution. How did you first become involved with Moffitt?
While I attended graduate school at University of South Florida in clinical psychology, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Dr. Paul Jacobsen, former Associate Center Director of Population Science. This is how I first became involved with cancer research at Moffitt. I conducted both my master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation studies with the gracious support of the Thoracic Oncology Program. I came to be amazed by the access and opportunities that the clinical faculty allowed me, a lowly graduate student, to their clinic, their patients, and their time. This is when I began to realize what a special place Moffitt is, in no small part because of how collaborative the environment is. After completing my degree and receiving offers for postdoctoral fellowships across the country, I eagerly accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Heather Jim in the Health Outcomes and Behavior Program. My two years in this position only served to solidify my appreciation for the exceptional patients we serve here and the close collaborations between faculty in various clinical and research areas.

What made you want to come back to Moffitt?
I was sad to leave after completing my fellowship, but I was glad to head off to a tenure-track faculty position at another NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center. After about a year passed, an opportunity arose to perhaps return to Moffitt. I couldn’t resist the chance to come back, join the other faculty conducting cutting-edge science, and begin improving patients’ lives.

Dr. Brian Gonzalez is an assistant member of the Health Outcomes and Behavior Program.

By then it had become very clear to me how unique Moffitt was in terms of its research emphasis, collaborative environment, excellent leadership, and access to a large patient population eager to take part in clinical research. In fact, I always knew I was going to return. I just never imagined I’d get the chance so soon.

Why did you choose science, specifically cancer research, as a career?
We have all had loved ones who've been touched by cancer. I remember being struck by the huge quality of life burden that cancer patients and survivors face. In many cases, the quality of life issues caused
by cancer or as side effects of treat-
ment are treatable or preventable. I resolved to improve the quality of life of cancer patients and survivors by preventing quality of life issues where we can and reducing the impact on those issues that have already arisen.

How is technology helping you advance your research and help improve the quality of life for cancer patients?
In many ways. Not too long ago it was astronomically expensive to genotype even a handful of patients. But only a few years ago we were able to genotype hundreds of patient, enabling us to find genetic predictors of cognitive impairment and hot flashes in prostate cancer patients. Objectively measuring patients’ sleep used to require an overnight sleep study, a very inconvenient and labor-intensive process. Now we can simply ask them to wear a small device on their wrist that looks just like a smart watch. This is helping us predict which patients are at greatest risk of sleep disturbance and measure the effectiveness of interventions to address sleep disturbance. And monitoring patients’ symptoms once relied on patients to 1) understand that they were experiencing a significant issue and 2) call in to schedule a last-minute appointment in a busy clinic. Some clinics set up automated phone trees for patients to call into in order to figure out whether the symptom needs to be addressed. In other words, we’re still in the flip-phone era for monitoring patients’ symptoms. Drs. Scott Gilbert, Heather Jim, and I are taking us to the smartphone era by developing a mobile health platform that allows patients to answer a few simple questions every few days using their smartphones or tablets. If they wish, they can even share their temperature, blood pressure, and weight via bluetooth-enabled devices.

Will you be participating in Miles for Moffitt on Saturday? Why is it important for fellow researchers to get involved in this event?
Yes I will. My family and I will be participating as virtual walkers on Saturday. It’s critical that researchers not only get involved but take the lead in Miles for Moffitt. After all, the goal of this event is to raise funds for cancer research. As scientists, we should be at the forefront of ensuring that the public is aware of and contributes to the mission of the Moffitt Cancer Center.