Neuro-Oncologist Joins Penn’s Mission to Battle Mind Most cancers

richard phillips

Richard E. Phillips, MD, PhD, a Presidential Assistant Professor of Neurology and member of the Penn Epigenetics Institute, is pretty new to the Penn Drugs household and the town of Philadelphia. Initially from England, Phillips made his method to america after graduating from medical faculty at King’s Faculty London. He accomplished his internship at Massachusetts Common Hospital, a residency in Neurology at Harvard/MGH Brigham in Boston, and a fellowship in Neuro-Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Most cancers Middle the place he stayed on as college. However in November 2020, he made the transfer to Penn’s Perelman College of Drugs.

Phillips says he was drawn to Penn for a wide range of causes — however notably for its efforts within the mind tumor discipline. “Not solely does Penn have a implausible scientific mind tumor operation for sufferers, it has the analysis and infrastructure for top-level science — along with infrastructure to translate science into therapies,” Phillips mentioned.

In fact, he was eager about Penn on a private stage as nicely. His spouse, who’s a Penn alumna, has a number of members of the family within the area. “There’s additionally the fantastic individuals right here at Penn that impressed me. The college, the chair of Neurology, our colleagues in Neurosurgery, Radiation and Medical Oncology on the Mind Tumor Middle — they’re devoted and work nicely collectively as a group. That was one thing I wished to be part of.”

On this Q&A, Phillips mentioned his leading edge analysis, the significance of fundamental science for advancing affected person care, and why he’s obsessed with mentorship.

What impressed you to enter neuro-oncology?

First, I went into neurology as a result of I discover the mind fascinating. It might have an effect on any facet of your being when your mind isn’t working — your ideas, imaginative and prescient, power. Each facet of 1’s humanity is managed by the mind.

I grew to become a neuro-oncologist because it’s a discipline the place there’s a actual alternative to use elementary science to advance the sector for sufferers with very tough ailments. You’ll be able to go into medication and it’s extremely rewarding to have the ability to repair a affected person instantly. However the actuality is that for a lot of of them, there are not any rapid options. These are the sufferers I wish to dedicate my profession to.

richard phillips
Richard E. Phillips, MD, PhD

How would you describe the present state of mind tumor analysis?

There are quite a lot of various kinds of mind tumors, however my focus is in gliomas — these are the commonest and most aggressive main mind tumor (which means they come up within the mind).

Though outcomes differ relying on the kind of glioma a affected person has, I feel it’s truthful to say we actually want new, higher therapies. Possibly 10 years in the past, pancreatic most cancers, melanoma, and glioma had been three kinds of cancers which had been the amongst the toughest to deal with; they had been nonetheless within the “basement.” Now, melanoma has left the basement, due to advances in immunotherapy. Glioma hasn’t moved up but.

That mentioned, science is shifting rapidly — there was some paradigm shifting analysis within the final 10 years and there may be each purpose to be optimistic that there can be new therapies on the horizon. For instance, there have been nice developments to rejoice with regards to understanding these tumors. The mutations that trigger these tumors are so much clearer now — and so we all know so much in regards to the pathways which can be going flawed. Moreover, new approaches led by the Glioblastoma Multiforme Translational Middle of Excellence, together with immunotherapies pioneered right here at Penn, are being utilized to glioma and could also be essential weapons in opposition to this illness.

What analysis are you at present enterprise?

My lab is eager about how epigenetic mechanisms are concerned within the growth of mind tumors. These are the processes which management whether or not particular genes are switched on or switched off. This is essential in regular growth and when these epigenetic directions go flawed, cells can get confused and grow to be cancerous — that’s the biology I research.

We concentrate on gliomas in kids and younger adults because it seems gliomas in these sufferers have a shared biology the place epigenetic processes have gone haywire, and we’re working to know the small print of how this makes a cell cancerous.

Lately, now we have recognized one epigenetic pathway which works flawed in a sort of glioma. We’re now creating a small molecule to focus on that pathway. When focused, we hope the cells will return in the direction of a standard growth course of, and cease the uncontrolled progress attribute of those tumors.

Why is fundamental science so essential?

I’m an enormous advocate for elementary science. It’s essential to dig deep into mechanisms so as to perceive nature and this can result in therapies that really work. The perfect illustration of that is what we’ve witnessed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. Among the work that has taken us out of this disastrous scenario is due to fundamental science mRNA analysis finished proper right here at Penn. This analysis arose from devoted scientists working diligently to attempt to make sense of how nature works, and maybe couldn’t have been predicted on the time to have this impression. That’s the reason I feel it’s so essential to help scientists’ work and concepts.

It’s no totally different for a physician-scientist in neuro-oncology. If we are able to actually make sense of what goes flawed when mind tumors develop, we’ll inevitably be capable to develop new therapies for our sufferers.

What are the largest challenges you face as a scientist and the place do you see the best alternatives?

Backside line, one of many largest challenges as a scientist is getting funding to do the science. That’s what retains labs working.

It’s additionally essential to know which scientific inquiries to go after. No questions are simple as a result of understanding nature is tough. Some questions are extra related to what you wish to obtain (e.g. new therapies), and attempting to determine the appropriate questions and path to observe requires very cautious contemplation.

However that problem additionally creates large alternative. You’ll be able to mainly research what you need! I don’t assume many individuals are conscious how artistic a discipline science will be — not solely are you able to research what you need, you should utilize your creativity to method or reply questions in ways in which have by no means been used earlier than.

Science additionally offers unimaginable alternatives for uplifting trainees. You’ve gotten the power to coach and mentor a whole era who can keep it up developments on this thrilling discipline. Right here at Penn, I’ve gotten concerned with initiatives such because the Penn Entry Summer time Students (PASS) program, a pipeline program for underrepresented in medication college students to expertise the medical faculty surroundings firsthand whereas constructing a supportive community.

I’m obsessed with mentorship, from highschool college students to fellows to these just some years behind me. It bothers me when younger, proficient individuals aren’t conscious of sure profession paths, or they don’t know what’s obtainable to them — individuals must be given info to allow them to take into consideration the appropriate careers for them, get mentorship, and dig into the number of alternatives science has to supply.


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