»Cancer cells are very complex machines«
Will we someday have a cure for cancer?
A number of renowned cancer researchers predict- ed that we would be able to cure cancer in five or ten years. Unfortunately, those predictions have not materialised. Cancer medicine has continued to focus on anatomical changes that researchers like Rudolf Virchow were already studying over 100 years ago. In recent years, however, new molecular methods have been developed which let us register the genetic changes in tumours in great detail. This has helped researchers determine that tumours with a similar anatomy can be vastly different at the genetic level. The new methods also allow us to develop therapies which can precisely target these genetic changes.
Is that one of your research goals as an Einstein Junior Fellow?
My Einstein project looks at why some lung cancer patients respond much better to a targeted therapy than others. We are trying to figure out why this happens, because the cancer appears to produce the same genetic changes. We study cell lines and tissue samples from patients in the lab in order to establish the function of tumour cells at the molecular level. Once we have our experimental lab results, we model them on computers in order to simulate cell processes. We can simulate a genetic mutation, for example, then add a drug treatment and observe how it reacts on the computer. After that, we need to go back and verify the simulation results in experiments.
Cancer cells are like highly complex machines with built-in errors. These errors result in an enormous advantage in terms of survival for cancer cells, but their uncontrolled growth has devastating effects on the body. I want to under- stand how these errors intervene in the mechanics of cell growth and which are especially important in order to help develop new drugs for cancer treatment.
Does your work also involve contact with patients?
At the Charité university hospital, we have many cancer patients and where I work at the Institute for Pathology, we need to diagnose patients who may have cancer and prepare the lab results. It's difficult for me to know that someone's future depends on each tissue sample. But it also motivates me to keep improving our understanding of cancer through diagnostics and research. My dream is someday to be able to understand the cancer that is attacking each individual patient, so that we can develop customised therapies and help find a cure in the long term.
Photo: Pablo Castagnola
This page will not be updated after the end of the fellowship.