Meet a cancer researcher: Robert Wechsler-Reya

By Kristina Meek
March 30, 2012
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Meet Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D., director of the Tumor Development Program in Sanford-Burnham’s NCI-designated Cancer Center.

1.  What inspired you to pursue cancer research?

Like many scientists, I was initially driven by curiosity: I loved learning new things, solving puzzles, figuring out how the world around me worked. At some point it occurred to me that the work I was doing — studying the signals that make brain cells grow — might have clinical implications. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to a young boy with a brain tumor that I realized how critical our work was, and how urgent it was for us to make progress in understanding these diseases. Ever since then, that’s been a major motivating force in my research. The curiosity is still there, but the kids are what make me get out of bed in the morning and work late into the night.

2.  What do you do?

My work focuses on medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children. Medulloblastoma is a devastating tumor that often spreads though the brain and spinal cord, and if left untreated, is always fatal. Fortunately, most kids don’t go untreated. In fact, with a combination of surgery, radiation and high-dose chemotherapy, many patients with medulloblastoma can survive. But these treatments are associated with extremely severe side effects, including cognitive deficits, endocrine disorders and an increased incidence of secondary cancers caused by the therapy. Moreover, about one-third of patients relapse and die despite these aggressive treatments. The goal of our research is to gain a better understanding of the biology of medulloblastoma so we can develop safer and more effective therapies.

3.  What would you do with an extra $1 million for your research?

A major focus of our research is to develop new therapies for medulloblastoma patients. Identifying new drugs is difficult, and validating their efficacy in animal models is time-consuming and expensive. An extra $1 million would allow us to scale up our efforts at drug identification, accelerate the pace at which we test therapies, and quickly move the most promising agents forward into clinical trials.

Check back soon, or subscribe to this blog, to read more from the cancer researchers working each day to realize Sanford-Burnham’s motto, “From Research, the Power to Cure.”

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Kristina Meek

Kristina was a Sanford-Burnham Communications staff member.

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