What inspired you to get into IR research?
I was working in a start-up company developing new tools for robot-assisted surgery. I was looking to get back to academic research and had the opportunity to do a postdoctoral IR fellowship with Stephen B. Solomon, MD, FSIR, emphasizing image-guided cancer therapy. I felt this was a logical progression of my research as IR promises even less-invasive therapy of cancer when compared to robotic surgery, while creating interesting opportunities for studying the biological response of cancer to treatment (which is entirely absent following surgery). Because my training was largely in engineering, I had a steep learning curve. Fortunately, I received exceptional mentorship from Dr. Solomon and Joseph P. Erinjeri, MD, PhD, who were instrumental in initiating me in the field and guiding me through my early years.
How will SIR Foundation’s support further your research at this point in your career?
The Ring Grant I received from SIR Foundation was my first sizeable grant as an independent principal investigator. Receiving funding to pursue your research interest provides a huge boost of confidence. It affirms others’ belief in your research and willingness to invest money in your development as a researcher. This recognition of your work also signals the value of your research to your peers.
Besides direct funding support, SIR Foundation provided me with a valuable peer network, especially the Research Grants and Education Division, whose members (mainly Erik N.K. Cressman, MD, PhD, FSIR, and Michael Borrelli, PhD) gave me encouragement, guidance and grant templates that helped me seek additional funding. SIR Foundation’s initial seed money and support has also helped to secure larger grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Department of Defense (DOD).
What is your research studying?
IRs use nonionizing energy to ablate tumors. Historically the emphasis has been to develop “stronger” medicine that can completely eradicate the tumor following a single ablation. Until the advent of immunotherapy, there was little interest in leveraging what happens at the ablation site into better treatments.
After studying the biological response of cancer to non-ionizing energy (mostly electric fields), I design image-guided techniques for cancer therapy, emphasizing targeted treatment, function preservation and improved locoregional control. Near-term translational potential is the key consideration in my research.
How do you perceive your research’s potential impact?
IR’s role in cancer therapy has rapidly grown in the last few years but is still restricted to the treatment of tumors in solid organs and soft tissue. My research will advance IR to tubular organs, locations where current therapies are inadequate. Surgery or radiation of a tumor in the genitourinary, gastrointestinal or respiratory tract results in loss of function and reduces the quality of life for patients. There is significant treatment-associated morbidity.
IR is uniquely positioned to treat these patients while preserving their quality of life, but suitable ablation tools and a better understanding of biology are critical components to advancing this vision. My lab develops devices and ablation techniques that are especially designed to safely (but completely) treat tumors in hollow organs.
SIR Foundation’s support has allowed us to study the biological activity at the site of ablation, allowing us to identify adjuvant techniques that improve the safety and efficacy of these treatments. Hopefully our findings in the lab will be translated by IRs to patient benefit in the short term.
What did you find most challenging about the grant writing process?
Trying to figure out how to get unknown reviewers as excited about an idea as I am. I am writing the grant application because I have come upon a scientific question whose answer could change patients’ lives. Furthermore, I have figured out how to obtain that answer—and that’s exciting to me. The challenge I then face is how to effectively communicate this idea to someone else and get them sufficiently invested in it to recommend my grant for funding.
What advice would you give others who are preparing to write and submit a grant proposal?
I try to detach the effort that goes into writing a grant from the outcome of receiving an award, treating the grant as a self-contained exercise. I have come to believe that organizing my ideas into a proposal improves my thinking process as a scientist.
I feel that a negative or unfavorable review is just one person’s opinion of your idea, as someone else may think differently of the same idea. This mindset helps manage the fear of rejection, which can sometimes keep you from even getting started on writing the grant.
Also, I try to work on research topics that I love; getting a grant to support my work then feels like a bonus and not a necessity.
Any additional thoughts you would like to share with IRQ readers?
Receiving SIR Foundation’s support of my initial research project allowed me to pursue subsequent (larger) funding opportunities for my project, through the National Institutes of Health and the DOD. Supporting SIR Foundation will allow others to continue important research in IR, advancing the specialty and developing more innovative therapies that will improve patient care and quality of life.