Recommended by: Harry Ostrer, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Alex Pearlman hopes his discoveries will affect the way prostate cancer patients are treated. With other researchers, he has developed a genomic copy-number alteration-based prognostic model to predict, at the earliest stage possible, the likelihood that a local prostate cancer will metastasize.
The model was featured in a recent issue of the Journal of Probability and Statistics, a paper that he calls the "culmination of 10 years of work" and the "methods paper" for what he hopes will soon be a clinical test. "The finish line is pretty clear," says Pearlman, who is at New York City's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "It is to develop a US Food and Drug Administration-approved kit to predict prostate cancer metastases and to alleviate men of needless surgeries and radiation treatment."
Pearlman's path from biomedical engineering student to computational biologist interfacing with the FDA was inspired by personal experience and interest. "I was always interested in medical advancements in cancer because many of my family members have had cancer," Pearlman says. "At the start, I was just trying to understand more about cancer, and then it evolved into being interested in the genomics of it, how the cells behave and the mechanisms behind tumor evolution."
Pearlman worked as a bench scientist at Rockefeller University developing microarray assays and then moved into computational biology. "You could say I was forced into computational biology because I started working with the assays that generated the data," Pearlman says, adding that his assay-development skills have come in handy in the computational world. "You have to be into efficiency and optimization and that translated into being able to optimize code and get into the quantitative nature of the analysis."
He also credits the multifacetedness of his PhD mentor at New York University, Harry Ostrer, with contributing to his development as a scientist. "The vast number of projects I had been involved in in his lab taught me the way to approach large-scale projects," Pearlman says. "There are so many different ways to approach and integrate information, and working with him allowed me to see a clearer path to developing a tangible clinical product."
Ostrer has since joined Albert Einstein Medical College, and, together, he and Pearlman are working on finding a way to get his model into clinical use. "We are trying to get guidance from the FDA on how to develop this as a kit, working with collaborators, software developers, different institutions for collecting new cohorts — it is a huge project for trying to get a diagnostic on the market," Pearlman says.
And the Nobel goes to...
When it comes to the idea of winning the Nobel Prize, Pearlman has his eyes on different kind of recognition. "If I was to win, I guess the prize for peace would be the one," he says.