Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Long Road of Research

Dr. Chip Landen (center) with YSB members (L to R)
Gaines Livingston, Andrew Case, Sam Todd and
Walker Badham.
Today, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center hosted our Young Supporters Board, which is comprised of young up-and-coming professionals from around Birmingham. Our guest speaker was Charles "Chip" Landen, M.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology.

Dr. Landen joined the UAB faculty in 2009, and he has quickly become one of our rising stars. Last year, he was one of only seven early career investigators nationwide to receive an inaugural Ovarian Cancer Academy Award from the U.S. Department of Defense. Dr. Landen works to identify and characterize a subpopulation of ovarian cancer cells that have enhanced ability to survive chemotherapy and cause recurrence. Understanding this class of cells may lead to discoveries of key pathways than can be targeted with novel anti-cancer therapies.

Dr. Landen's presentation today focused not only on his research, but also on his career path. I've often talked about the amount of time it takes for young scientists to actually begin their careers. It's very common: after high school, these scientists spend four years of undergraduate education, three to eight years of graduate school to get a Ph.D., then followed by another two to three years of postdoctoral training. By the time their training is complete, they're 34 years old when they land their first "real" job.

The other issue these scientists face is funding. For today's young researchers, there's only 10-percent chance that their first grants, which are essential to establishing labs and launching their studies, will be funded by federal sources. This is where groups like the Young Supporters Board come in.

In the last few years, the Young Supporters Board has established a Young Investigators Grant, which funds the work of cancer researchers who are just beginning their careers. The board has taken tremendous initiative in this endeavor, and their work is already paying off. David Schneider, Ph.D., the first grant recipient, took the board's $40,000 investment and turned it into a $1.2-million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Landen serves as another great example of why the work of the Young Supporters Board is so important and critical to the Cancer Center's success. Our young scientists are the next generation in the fight against cancer, but they can't do it alone.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

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