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Checking in with Past YIA Recipient Dr. Donald W. Parsons

Nov 30, 2010

November 2010: ASCO Connection recently followed up with the 2007 recipient of the ASCO Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award (YIA) supported by the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO)—Donald W. Parsons, MD, PhD, of Texas Children's Cancer Center and Hematology Service. The YIA provides research funding to young oncologists who are completing their training in order to help them transition to a faculty appointment. The original idea for JCO to sponsor a YIA came from George Canellos, MD, during his 1993 to 1994 tenure as ASCO's president.

Donald W. Parsons, MD, PhD

In the Q&A that follows, Dr. Parsons provides an update on his award-winning research project: “Further Exploration of the Human Cancer Genome: A Critical Evaluation of Candidate Cancer Genes as Potential Molecular Targets for Diagnostics and Therapeutics.”

AC: What were the outcomes of your research, "Further Exploration of the Human Cancer Genome: A Critical Evaluation of Candidate Cancer Genes as Potential Molecular Targets for Diagnostics and Therapeutics"?

Dr. Parsons: My project proposed to analyze a set of candidate cancer genes for genetic alterations (mutations and copy number changes) in a number of tumor types, including glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), with a goal of identifying genes that might be clinically relevant and worthy of further research. Our laboratory eventually completed a much larger study: performing an integrated genomic analysis of GBM, including mutation analysis of all protein encoding genes. This led to the discovery of a number of new candidate cancer genes, most significantly isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 and 2 (IDH1 and IDH2), which turn out to be critical to the glioma development. These genes are currently being actively investigated for their utility in glioma diagnosis, as well as potential molecular targets for therapy.

AC: How has the JCO-sponsored Young Investigator Award impacted your career?

Dr. Parsons: I am very grateful for the support provided by the JCO-sponsored Young Investigator Award. In combination with the excellent mentorship that I received as both a graduate student (with Thomas W. Prior, PhD, Ohio State University) and post-doctoral fellow (with Victor Velculescu, MD, PhD; Kenneth Kinzler, PhD; and Bert Vogelstein, MD), this award helped set me on the route to a productive career in neuro-oncology research. The award provided support at a particularly important time, the transition from fellowship to faculty (and mentored research to independent research). The sponsored project provided excellent experience and training, and the preliminary data from the project was incredibly useful in successfully applying for later grant support for follow-up projects.

AC: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Parsons: In 2008, I joined the faculty of Texas Children's Cancer Center (Baylor College of Medicine) as a member of the Department of Pediatrics (Section of Hematology-Oncology) and the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics. On the clinical side, I treat children with brain and spinal cord tumors at Texas Children's Cancer Center. In terms of research, I have continued to work on cancer genomics projects similar to the work sponsored by the Young Investigator award, but with an exclusive focus on pediatric cancers, and in particular, brain tumors.

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