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Found in translation

Medicine@Yale, 2006 - Jan Feb


Yale’s oncology chief is intent on moving cancer discoveries to the bedside

Edward Chu, M.D., is a man on a mission. Since his appointment as chief of medical oncology and director of clinical research at the Yale Cancer Center (YCC) in 2004, Chu has completed a whirlwind recruiting drive that brought 11 new expert clinical investigators to Yale in just 16 months. This administrative coup—most people in Chu’s position would be pleased to fill one or two such positions in a year—is a first stroke in Chu’s plan to create a robust translational research program at the cancer center, bringing the knowledge gained from basic scientific research to patient care as quickly as possible.

Acclaimed for his research on tumor resistance to chemotherapy agents and on new compounds for colorectal cancer, Chu came to Yale in 1996 via the National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he was a tenured senior clinical investigator.

Chu has followed in his parents’ footsteps—but in reverse. Before they accepted positions at Brown University, both began their professional careers as cancer pharmacologists at Yale. Chu, who grew up near Providence, R.I., graduated from Brown with undergraduate and medical degrees but landed back at Yale, where he continues a family tradition of developing novel treatments for cancer.

Chu’s Section of Medical Oncology is one of more than a half-dozen academic units in the School of Medicine that conduct research and provide cancer care under the umbrella of the YCC, which was established in 1974, shortly after President Nixon declared the “war on cancer.” Modern chemotherapy was developed and first administered to patients at Yale in 1942, and the YCC was one of the first facilities in the nation to receive the NCI’s Comprehensive Cancer Center designation.

By capitalizing on Yale’s long-standing tradition in cancer pharmacology, and its well-established strengths in immunobiology and diagnostic imaging, Chu plans to make Yale a center of translational research.

“Everyone uses the term ‘translation’ these days, but it’s extremely difficult to carry off effectively,” Chu says. “Our goal is to have really close crosstalk between basic scientists and clinical investigators, and to take findings from the clinic to gain better insight into how various treatments work.”

A research area that holds particular personal fascination for Chu is the blending of traditional Chinese medicine with modern cancer therapies.

Along with Henry Bronson Professor of Pharmacology Yung-Chi “Tommy” Cheng, Ph.D., Chu and his team are conducting rigorous clinical studies to see whether these 2000-year-old remedies can enhance chemotherapy’s effectiveness against cancer cells and/or protect healthy normal cells against the side effects experienced during cancer treatment.

Now that the new group of clinical investigators is settling in at Yale, Chu says, it’s time to bring all the pieces together. “We’ve got tremendous basic science; we’ve got great core resources. We now have a critical mass of key experts in developing clinical trials,” he says. “It won’t take very long for Yale to be viewed not just as one of the premier preclinical basic research programs, but one of the preeminent clinical and translational programs in this country.”

Lifelines profiles the people who carry out the scientific, educational and clinical missions of the Yale School of Medicine.