Programs recipients

Alec E. Vaezi 1998 -1999 Bernice Goldblatt Fellow

1998 -1999 Bernice Goldblatt Fellow

The Bernice Goldblatt Fellowship was instrumental in recruiting me to the University of Chicago and launching my career. As a Swiss citizen without a green card, the Committee on Cancer Biology could not pay my stipend and tuition via National Institute of Health grants. The Goldblatt Fellowship provided the funds for my recruitment and, more important, it allowed me to study at the University of Chicago. The Committee on Cancer Biology at the University of Chicago is nothing short of phenomenal, and the Goldblatt Fellowship is an important part of the success of the program.

The Goldblatt Fellowship sparked a chain reaction that propelled my career. It allowed me to study in the laboratory of Elaine Fuchs, PhD, of the National Academy of Science, who was presented the 2008 National Medal of Sciences Award by President Obama. Thanks to this training, I became the first foreign medical graduate in its 40-year history to enter the prestigious residency program in otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh. As of July 1, 2011, I am an assistant professor in head and neck surgery and skull base surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, which is ranked #2 in the U.S. in our specialty. I am now on track for tenure, and I have a research lab in head and neck cancer biology. I am applying for my first NIH grant, and I believe I am an excellent candidate for funding.

My lab is focusing on two aspects of head and neck cancer biology. First, I found a novel biomarker that predicts the patients with head and neck cancer at risk of treatment failure after chemo radiation. This has important therapeutic implications in the context of personalized treatment of cancer. Patients at risk of failure may be directed to other therapies such as the one experimented by Ezra Cohen, MD, and Everett Vokes, MD, at the University of Chicago. Second, I am studying how DNA damage in the tumor stroma (blood vessels and noncancerous supporting tissue) plays a role in preventing tumor recurrences. I am using knockout mice to target DNA damage to different components of the tumor supporting tissue and to look at the effect growth of tumor recurrences. This is significant because DNA damage in the tumor stroma/microenvironment have the power to suppress tumor recurrence, a major problem in head and neck cancer and other solid tumors.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Goldblatt Fellowship had a profound impact on my career. This investment had a very high return; the financiers should be jealous! I have one deeply felt thought for the Goldblatt family: thank you for making my dream come true.