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Checking in with Past YIA Recipient Jung-Min Lee, MD

Apr 02, 2012

ASCO Connection recently followed up with the inaugural recipient of the 2011 Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Jane C. Wright, MD, Young Investigator Award (YIA)—Jung-Min Lee, MD, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The YIA provides research funding to young oncologists who are completing their training in order to help them transition to a faculty appointment. The Jane C. Wright, MD, YIA—which honors the ASCO cofounder and chemotherapy pioneer—was funded by generous, personal contributions from members of the Board of Directors of ASCO and the Conquer Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Lee (R) and Dr. Wright (L)
AC: What were the outcomes of your research, “Sequence Specific DNA Damage with PARP Inhibition and Carboplatin”?

Dr. Lee: We presented the first part of our YIA preclinical data at the 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting. We showed that PARP inhibitor pre-exposure attenuates carboplatin-induced cell injury and DNA double-strand breaks in breast and ovarian cancer cell lines with and without BRCA1 mutation. Currently, I am dissecting the mechanisms of DNA damage that occurs as a result of different schedules of these drugs in our preclinical models.

We launched our clinical trial to test this hypothesis in January 2011, and the protocol was presented at the Trials in Progress Poster Session. We completed the dose escalation using a new olaparib tablet formulation and are now randomly assigning patients to one of two schedules (olaparib followed by carboplatin compared with carboplatin followed by olaparib). I am delighted by the enthusiasm of our patient community for this protocol. We will look at differential drug exposure, adverse events, correlative endpoints, and clinical benefit with sequence of administration of two drugs.

AC: How has the Jane C. Wright, MD YIA affected your career?

Dr. Lee: I am honored to have been selected by the Conquer Cancer Foundation as the first recipient of the Jane C. Wright, MD YIA.
Meeting Dr. Wright and learning of her remarkable contributions to ASCO and oncology has been inspirational. I am confident that the Jane C. Wright, MD YIA will be a cornerstone upon which I will build my academic career in developmental therapy.

AC: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Lee: Recent data from our group and others suggest that certain women with high-grade ovarian cancer have benefit from PARP inhibitors. To complement my YIA, I am investigating a potential predictive biomarker to guide a PARP inhibitor–based therapy selection for those who might have benefit. My YIA work led to this new project, for which I have just been awarded the Caring Together, NY Ovarian Cancer Research Grant from The Foundation for Women’s Cancer.

AC: Do you have any advice for an early-career oncologist selecting a track or specialty?

Dr. Lee: It is very important to follow your passion and always get involved with that which makes you excited and happy.

Finding the right mentor has had a huge impact on the direction and momentum of my research, and this will apply to everyone. The mentors that have had the biggest impact on my career are Elise C. Kohn, MD, of  NCI, and Laura Liberman, MD, FACR, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. They share the same values—honesty, integrity, and a passion for science.

AC: Why did you pick research over practice?

Dr. Lee: I wanted to make an impact in the field, for both patients’ care and to advance science.

I strongly believe that academic oncology is the most exciting subspecialty in medicine with potential for the greatest immediate and long-term effects for our patients and for understanding of disease. Understanding molecular mechanisms and working on hypothesis-driven clinical trials at NCI has helped me mature as a clinician-scientist. Dr. Kohn sets a good example of how important it is for physicians at academic institutions to communicate knowledge and advances of research with the community and patients.

AC: Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

Dr. Lee: Dr. Wright is an amazing woman-physician role model, overcoming obstacles placed on her by society as a woman and as an African American. I am an Asian immigrant woman-physician. I came to the United States at age 26 and had to overcome language, culture, and societal changes.

My career goal, started with this important Jane C. Wright, MD YIA, is to continue in the steps of advancement that she started and to be a driver of change and advancement for our patients.

Recipients of this year’s Conquer Cancer Foundation Grants & Awards will be presented at the 2012 ASCO Annual Meeting.
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