Researcher Spotlight: Conquering Colorectal Cancer With Dr. Dustin Deming

Mar 03, 2017

Dustin Deming, MD, knew fairly early in his career that he wanted to study colorectal cancer. In fact, he made the decision his first year of medical school after spending time in the clinic with a talented gastrointestinal oncologist. What Dr. Deming did not know was that the effort to conquer colorectal cancer would become personal: he was diagnosed with the disease in 2012.

The news came just 1 year after he received a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award (YIA) to study colorectal cancer.

“Obviously, it’s ironic that someone who has dedicated their life to treating colorectal cancer would then get the disease,” said Dr. Deming. “The experience of having colorectal cancer has really changed the way I interact with my patients. I can look them in the eye and say, ‘I’ve been there,’ and walk them through what it means on a day-to-day basis.”

Fortunately, Dr. Deming has now been cancer-free for 4 years and continues to build upon the work made possible by his award.

“The Conquer Cancer Foundation YIA, which led to a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin, helped show that I could still be productive despite my diagnosis. The award really supported me career-wise during a difficult time,” he said.

The 2011 YIA allowed Dr. Deming and his team to develop more accurate models for colorectal cancer that demonstrate multiple mutations present in the disease. In doing so, they also discovered a new subtype of colon cancer. Ultimately, they were able to screen several drugs already in development to determine whether the drugs might allow for better treatment of patients.

“This research allows us a better way to find therapies we can tailor to individual patients,” said Dr. Deming. “The goal is that when someone comes into the clinic, we can deliver a precision medicine-based strategy rather than treating them the same way as everybody else with their type of cancer.”

Dr. Deming’s work could eventually lead to better-tolerated treatment strategies and, hopefully, better outcomes for people living with colorectal cancer. The next step is already underway in the form of a clinical trial in development with ECOG-ACRIN.

Having cancer also reinforced the urgency of developing better treatments and cures.

“It used to be that if an experiment could wait, it might wait,” he said. “Now I know that if we’re going to make a difference, and we’re going to make a difference now, we have to get things done now.

“To me, the most rewarding thing about cancer research is the hope it provides for patients,” said Dr. Deming. “To be able to talk through the work that we’re doing here and the work others are doing around the world, I can see the excitement in [my patients’] eyes. I can tell what it means to them, because it means the same thing to me, too.” 

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