Tanguy Seiwert: Different Approach for Cancer Therapeutics
Assistant professor, University of Chicago
Recommended by Eileen Dolan, University of Chicago
Tanguy Seiwert knew that he wanted to be able to contribute something to society, and when he was searching for a specialty during his medical training, he thought that the two areas with the highest need were neuroscience and oncology. Cancer, though, seemed to Seiwert to be a more interesting problem, and it also touched home as his grandfather died from cancer.
Cancer therapeutics in particular seemed to suddenly be accelerating, Seiwert said, as new and targeted therapies became available.
Currently, Seiwert is working on unraveling the similarities that seemingly certain disparate cancers share. While he is focused on head and neck squamous cell tumors, Seiwert noted that those tumors are similar not only to lung squamous cell tumors but also to esophageal squamous cell tumors and to bladder squamous cell tumors.
"One of my interests is to look at these cross-tumor biological principles," Seiwert said.
Typically tumors are classified by — and drug development is then based on — their tissue of origin and, increasingly, their genetic subtype. The pie, Seiwert said, keeps getting smaller, and it then becomes less possible to test drugs.
But, he added, if researchers can figure which tumors act similarly, they might be able to determine if there is a therapeutic that could target those tumors.
"If we know which tumors behave similarly, this might allow a much more rational drug development, and it would be much more efficient," he added.
A challenge, though, he said, is sometimes convincing others that a broad approach is a worthwhile approach. Seiwert argued that an untargeted screen might yield a good hypothesis that can then be tested in a targeted way. "It is sometimes difficult to convince more established investigators who grew up in a different time … that these more broad technologies are worthy of funding and are actually useful," he said.
In the next few years or so as sequencing becomes more of a commodity, Seiwert said that it would become easier for patients to obtain a genetic fingerprint of their tumors. The challenge there, though, he said will be how to translate that to better and more personalized care.
"Cancer is still an incredibly complex disease and we're just scratching the surface, but I believe that these advances as science on the technical side and the scientific side will start to have more of an impact into how we approach patients," he said.
And the Nobel goes to…
While Seiwert said that winning an award like the Nobel is "not something that is on my mind," he would be gratified to be honored for making a contribution to make cancer not only more treatable, but possible curable.