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Checking in with Past YIA Recipient Phoenix Ho, MD

May 13, 2011

ASCO Connection recently followed up with 2009 Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award (YIA) recipient Phoenix Ho, MD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital. The YIA provides research funding to young oncologists who are completing their training in order to help them transition to a faculty appointment. Dr. Ho’s Young Investigator Award was supported by the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).

In the Q&A that follows, Dr. Ho provides an update on his research project: “Implications of s-SHIP Expression and SHIP Alterations in Acute Myeloid Leukemia”

: What were the outcomes of your YIA research project?


Dr. Ho: Our work thus far has demonstrated that some pediatric patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) have abnormally high s-SHIP expression in their leukemic blasts. The s-SHIP isoform is normally expressed exclusively in embryonic stem cells, and the subset of patients with aberrant, high s-SHIP expression, appear to have distinct biologic features. Leukemia cells from these patients have abnormally high levels of Akt phosphorylation, and our preliminary work suggests that the abnormal signal transduction driven by s-SHIP is propagated through specific downstream pathways. We are studying signal transduction inhibitors as potential targeted therapy drugs in this high-risk subset of patients with AML.

AC: How has the JCO-sponsored YIA impacted your career?

Dr. Ho:
The JCO-sponsored Young Investigator Award I received was one of the primary reasons I was able to continue my investigative career. This grant served as essential bridging funding, which provided me protected time to continue my research after the completion of my fellowship training. The preliminary data generated during this time has allowed me to compete successfully for several other early-career grants and to continue studying the molecular biology of pediatric AML.

AC: What are you currently working on?

Dr. Ho:
In addition to studying alterations of the PI3K/Akt pathway, I have been working on the definition and clinical utilization of molecular genotyping in AML. I have been studying function-altering mutations as well as single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the transcription factors WT1 and CEBPA, and the methylation-associated genes IDH1, IDH2, and DNMT3A. I am interested in defining how these alterations contribute to leukemogenesis, and how they can be used in disease classification. I am also interested in how the prognostic impact of these mutations can be used to refine risk stratification and therapy allocation, as well as the utility of these alterations as potential markers of minimal residual disease and their exploitation as potential targets of therapy.

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

Dr. Ho:
I think it’s important to be honest about what motivates you and to do what you love. Any career track in oncology is difficult work, but full of successful people who find tremendous fulfillment doing what they do. And at the early stage of a career, finding good mentorship—a mentor who inspires you and also provides you with the tools and guidance necessary to succeed—is more important than almost anything else.

AC: Why did you pick research over practice?

Dr. Ho:
My clinical interest is, and always has been, improving outcomes for children with high-risk leukemia. It became clear to me during my fellowship training that contributing to research in the field is an essential component of being a pediatric oncologist; I learned that basic and translational research has been just as important as the design and conduct of cooperative group clinical trials in advancing survival rates in pediatric oncology. My time in the lab has also led me to understand leukemia and its treatment on a deeper level, and I think this has made me a better clinician.

Visit conquercancerfoundation.org to learn more about the breakthrough research that is being funded and to discover how the Conquer Cancer Foundation Grants & Awards community is working to create a world free from the fear of cancer.

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