In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act, Dr. Anna Arnal Estapé shares her motivation for pursuing a career in cancer research:
What brought you to work in cancer research?
I have always been amazed by the beauty of nature and living creatures. In high school I had the opportunity to attend an advanced class in human biology that allowed me to understand how our body functions. Learning about essential things like how we breathe or why our heart beats was fascinating to me. It wasn’t until I started college that I realized that despite all our knowledge on human biology, many different diseases challenge our function constantly. The perpetual fight between tumor cells and our body, through adaptation and resistance started to keep me up at night. Since then, I have been committed to studying how tumors are formed and why they become resistant and come back despite the improvements in therapies.
Where do you see the future of cancer research?
I am very optimistic, we are moving in a good direction, increasing early diagnoses, getting tailored treatments with fewer side effects, and improving patient outcomes. I would like to see cancer become a manageable disease, less lethal. I would like to see cancer research across the globe become more unified and work together towards the same goals. More importantly, I would like to see that all the knowledge we have gathered translate to our society equitably.
What are some of the advances you have seen during your career?
The human genome sequence international project in the early 2000s revolutionized how we analyze the molecular basis of cancer. We are currently seeing a boom in cutting-edge and affordable technologies to study tumor biology in a multi-omics space. More relevant to patient care, I consider that targeted therapy has transformed cancer treatment. This couldn’t have been possible without the human genome sequencing and the new technologies that allow clinicians to tailor patient treatment by profiling their tumors at diagnosis.
Why is it so important to encourage younger and diverse groups to pursue a career in cancer research?
Young people are the future, and they carry the energy and thrust needed for this challenging task. Engaging young people early on is key to building the next generation of cancer researchers. Diversity is the basis of our society, the more diverse an ecosystem is the richer it becomes. A better question is why the cancer research work force is not representative of our society and what we need to do to change this.
Advice that you would give to someone considering a career in cancer research?
Be curious, enthusiastic, emphatic, and persistent. Surround yourself of a great team, be collegial, challenge every decision you make and ask for help. Be proud of what you do, it is a privilege to be able to work in an academic institution that generates knowledge and transfers it to society, for the benefit of other citizens/others.