The Sentinel


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Get to Know Sentinel Author: Alexandra Cadena

Name: Alexandra Cadena

Title: Research Intern

Employer: MD Anderson Cancer Center

When and why did you become a SITC member?

I became a SITC member about two years ago when I was a college student interning over the summer in the Experimental Rad Onc. Department at MD Anderson. My PI at the time encouraged me to submit an abstract to SITC on a retrospective study I did correlating tumor growth kinetics with response to immunotherapy. My abstract got accepted and I poster presented at National Harbor in 2015. After that experience, I truly fell in love with the SITC community and saw the field of immuno-oncology (IO) as the solution to shifting the scientific paradigm. What I most enjoy about being a SITC member is the diversity of talent the group draws from. I think they have really found an amazing balance of bringing all voices, from all different disciplines to the table to discuss advances in cancer immunotherapy. I find this refreshing in a world that constantly seeks to compartmentalizes and subspecialize what we know.

Can you briefly explain the work you are doing in the field?

The lab that I work with currently focuses on combining radiation with different immunotherapies to create an in situ vaccine for thoracic malignancies (i.e. lung cancer). Our lab has recently branched out, exploring the RadScopal effect, or how low dose + high dose with immunotherapy on board can elicit a positive abscopal response. In addition to this I have continued my research from university on NGI-1, an N-linked glycosylation inhibitor, and its synergism with radiation in various cancer cell lines that are non-immunogenic.

Who or what inspired you to choose this specific career path?

Dr. James W. Welsh inspired me to pursue my career path. I think I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a PI who values creative thinking and who is committed to asking the question of how translatable our research is to the clinic. I found myself in other labs that because of funding, were understandably concerned solely with publication. During this time I felt that my worldview became very myopic and tied to my bench research. I love the fact that during lab meetings with Dr. Welsh he dares us to dream big and make a big impact. It’s this call to action and the future challenges we face in cancer research that has led me to this career path.

What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing in the field?

I think one of the biggest struggles I am currently facing in the field of immune-oncology is cross-talk and collaboration across the three different sectors of research, industry, and clinicians. It is such a rapidly growing field and it has already been shown to tip the scales on how we approach cancer therapy. Facilitating collaboration/communication will undoubtedly make us come up with solutions to some other pressing issues such as accessibility to immunotherapies. The treatment is prohibitively expensive for many people in this country, but at the same time the therapy can sustain amazing cancer-free results. Additionally, much work needs to be done on analyzing patients who respond to treatment versus those who do not respond. Understanding why these differences occur between person to person will help us create more effective therapies.

What topic(s) do you plan to write about for The Sentinel, SITC’s new blog?

I hope to write about the RadScopal method, radiation in combination with immunotherapies, what it’s like to be a young female researcher in the field of IO and I hope to shed light on some of the amazing things my lab and others at MD Anderson are currently involved with.

What do you hope readers will gain from this new blog?

I hope that my readers will gain a better understanding and appreciation for the work being conducted in the field of rad-immuno and the diversity of researches currently operating in said field. 

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