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Checking in with Past YIA Recipient Christopher Lieu, MD

Oct 20, 2011

ASCO Connection recently followed up with 2010 Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award (YIA) recipient Christopher Lieu, MD, of the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The YIA provides research funding to young oncologists who are completing their training in order to help them transition to a faculty appointment. Dr. Lieu’s Young Investigator Award was supported by the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).

In the Q&A that follows, Dr. Lieu provides an update on his research project: “Role of FGF in the Resistance to Anti-VEGF Based Therapy in Colorectal Cancer.”

AC: What were the outcomes of your research project?

Dr. Lieu: We presented data at the 2011 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in San Francisco showing that most changes in circulating angiogenic factors after treatment with bevacizumab-containing chemotherapy appear to be because of chemotherapy alone and not attributable to anti-VEGF therapy. However, there were notable exceptions, including bFGF, PlGF, and Eotaxin.

We also presented data at a poster discussion session at the 2011 ASCO Annual Meeting, showing that increases in PlGF and VEGF-D were consistently observed after progression on chemotherapy and bevacizumab. These results highlight possible resistance mechanisms to bevacizumab therapy in patients with colorectal cancer.

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

Dr. Lieu: The JCO-sponsored YIA allowed me to begin and establish the direction of my research. It was one of the primary reasons I was able to develop my investigative career and to continue my research over the course of my fellowship. It is difficult to compete for grants at such an early stage in any academic career, and having a grant targeted towards junior investigators can make a big difference for a beginning researcher. The YIA also gave me much needed experience in creating a feasible proposal and completing it. I found that I learned more from the challenges of my project than the parts of my proposal that were more successful.

AC: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Lieu: I am continuing to investigate bFGF and FGFR in patients with colorectal cancer as well as other resistance mechanisms to anti-VEGF therapy. We are also using this preclinical data to propose potential clinical trials using agents that directly target potential resistance pathways, including FGF. Our laboratory is also focused on the comprehensive development of predictive and mechanistic biomarkers that can be utilized in individualizing therapy and in facilitating rational combinations of targeted therapies for the treatment of patients with colorectal cancer.

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

Dr. Lieu: It’s very important to be honest about what motivates you and excites you. The mentors that have had the biggest impact on my career have been oncologists who enjoy what they do every day. Finding the right mentor has also had a tremendous impact on the direction and momentum of my research, as good mentorship provides you with the knowledge, tools, and guidance needed to succeed.

AC: Why did you pick research over practice?

Dr. Lieu: Oncology is a rapidly developing field, and being a part of cancer research is incredibly exciting. The patients we see every day remind us of how limited our current treatments are. The academic environment allows us to treat our patients and then play an active role in trying to find better therapies for them. Right now, I feel that academic oncology is the most interesting and potentially impactful subspecialty in medicine.
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