In honor of Liver Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Julius Chapiro shares his motivation for treating patients with liver cancer and researching new therapies for the disease:
As we honor liver cancer awareness month, what do you want our patients and families to pause and remember?
Our patients go through a tremendous ordeal from the day they are diagnosed. Liver cancer therapy takes a huge toll on patients and their families and it’s important for everyone to be aware of this. As we honor liver cancer awareness month we ought to think of these challenges for our patients and remember to be forgiving and supportive for those facing the challenges firsthand. I also want to call upon the families and patients to be strong advocates for themselves when facing healthcare and their elected government representatives. Liver cancer research is dramatically underfunded. As such, liver cancer research receives up to 5 times less NIH funding per mortality as compared to other appropriately funded cancers such as breast cancer - despite being the fastest growing cancer in the United States. This needs rapid change. We as doctors and scientists can’t fix this all by ourselves and need the help of our patients and families to organize advocacy through private and public avenues. Make your voices heard!
What is your lab/research focused on now?
Our laboratory focuses on designing novel diagnostic instruments and minimally invasive therapies for liver cancer. We work closely with biomedical engineers and basic scientists to develop novel strategies that will allow us to allocate care in a more personalized fashion and to treat every patient with the right therapy. We apply novel molecular imaging techniques as well as artificial intelligence tools to meet those needs.
Are you able to translate your research into your clinical practice to help patients?
Yes, our Interventional Radiology team has many ongoing clinical trials that investigate the use of novel imaging systems and therapeutic combinations for patients with liver cancer. We work closely with our colleagues from Hepatology, Oncology and Surgery to deliver the most innovative care to those most in need of it. As such, we are funded by the National Institutes of Health to investigate quantitative imaging biomarkers that help better identify tumor response in patients which ultimately guides their therapy. We also work with numerous companies that offer cutting edge therapeutics in a shared attempt to critically evaluate those opportunities. For our most innovative component, the artificial intelligence instruments, we follow the motto “From Code to Bedside” and have numerous technology patents that are either pending or approved.
What are you most excited about in the coming year or two?
I am most excited about the rapid technological and bio-pharmaceutical developments that make liver cancer therapy more targeted and less invasive. We can offer cutting edge therapies to a greater number of patients who would not have qualified for these treatments as recently as last year. One such area of excitement is the FDA approval for internal radiation therapy with the isotope Yttrium90 that can be used in most versatile ways. Another area of great innovation is the use of combined therapies that apply both image guided minimally invasive approaches and targeted immunotherapy.
Mentorship is an important part of laboratory research—what is your favorite way to keep your team engaged, and learning from one another?
Our laboratory is incredibly diverse with students and researchers joining us from all across the globe, all united by a shared vision to help cure liver cancer. We enjoy group activities together and have a wide variety of social activities that we do together on a weekly basis that helps us bond and build mentor-mentee relationships. At the same time, we have a natural atmosphere of curiosity and non-hierarchical learning simply because all of us care so deeply about the science and bring different sets of talents to the table. It’s fun to be in the lab and that’s the essence of who we are.