Debasish Debu Tripathy, MD, is a professor of
medicine and co-leader of the womens cancer program at the USC Norris
Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Southern California in Los
Tripathy also is a member of the HemOnc Today Editorial
Board. He will serve as program director of the
HemOnc Today Breast Cancer Review &
Perspective, which will be held March 23-24 at the Hilton San Diego
Much of his clinical research focuses on novel therapeutics in breast
cancer, including growth factor receptor pathway targeting and biomarkers that
predict sensitivity and resistance.
I was exposed to medicine early on because my father was a clinician and
laboratory investigator. As a child, I visited in the lab often and helped
clean the equipment and dishware. When I was 15, I started working as an
orderly at our regional hospital. Working in a hospital seemed like a natural
fit. As I grew older, the dual nature of medicine the science and human
aspects appealed to me. The elements of service and technology fit
together. There were a few years during high school and college when I
wasnt sure of my ultimate profession, but I always leaned in that
direction. In college, I completed my thesis under a professor developing
membranes for an artificial kidney. This really opened my eyes to investigative
Understanding the science behind making valuable decisions for patients.
It is rewarding to know that the work Ive been involved in can be an aid
in not only decision-making but more effective options.
Specifically, I was attempting to use antisense DNA to turn off the
newly discovered HER-2 gene while still training as a fellow. It set the
tone for my interest in the area, and I realized that this kind of drug
development was going to be a pattern for cancer treatment in the future. It
motivated me to re-create this experience throughout my career, and the rewards
of that experience are still paying off.
Being able to do things on a large enough scale to interpret them. To
make the most important associations, one has to perform studies with a large
number of patients. Taking a seed of an idea in a pilot study and validating it
in broader context is never easy. Collaborating with tens, dozens or hundreds
of doctors on these big projects is a joy. It builds camaraderie and
professional competition that benefits almost everyone involved, but it can be
difficult working with so many people. It is fun, but challenging.
Helene Smith, PhD, director of the Geraldine Brush Cancer
Research Institute at California Pacific Medical Center, was a well-known
cytogeneticist who encouraged me to think critically, yet out of the box, and
to explore Tibetan medicine. That opened my interest in evidence-based
integrative medicine. Other mentors included Chris Benz, MD, professor
of Medicine at UCSF, whose lab I joined as a fellow, and Craig Henderson,
MD, chief of hematology/oncology at UCSF, whose clinical mentorship brought
me into the field of clinical investigation.
Dr. Smith encouraged me to be adventurous and to take risks. One area I
had a chance to explore early on was complementary and alternative medicine.
She was interested in Tibetan medicine, which was really in left field at the
time. I ended up writing a grant that, surprisingly, was funded and began a
whole program. This approach has benefited me as a clinician in the long run
and hopefully will benefit patients as we understand more, but I never would
have thought to explore it if someone hadnt urged me to think
I think of this as being similar to finding the way to destroy the Death
Star in the Star Wars movies. We are currently looking for critical
vulnerabilities in cancer cells. However, once we target these vulnerabilities,
the cells find ways to bypass treatment. We need to try to find multiple
vulnerabilities and treat them together in an individualized fashion.
I would suggest finding a mentor who will give you opportunities;
someone who has the time and works on the types of projects that will allow you
to learn and grow.
I also would suggest finding an area of focus that is uniquely yours. Of
course, we dont want to put our eggs in one basket, but the flip side of
that is that you dont want to spread yourself too thin. You have to delve
deep in cancer research. You have to become a leader in one area that only you
For clinicians, I would suggest to learn as much about your patient as
possible. Put yourself in their shoes whenever you can. See the world as they
see it, and try to understand this disease as they might.
I play piano and keyboard, and a little guitar. Music is a big part of
my life. I enjoy folk and rock music, particularly Bob Dylan, Neil Young and
the Grateful Dead.
I also enjoy cooking. My cooking tends to have no boundaries. I enjoy
trying new recipes; everything from Southwest barbecue to Asian cuisines, and I
would be remiss if I didnt mention my roots in Louisiana. I never get
tired of cooking and eating Cajun food.
The most beautiful place I have seen is Istanbul, Turkey. It is a
fascinating mixture of ancient and modern cultures, from the Byzantine and
Roman empires to the modern energy of the Middle East. You can really feel that
it straddles Europe and Asia. There is so much history there. The food is
great, the people are friendly, the Grand Bazaar offers the best shopping, and
the mosques and architecture are breathtaking.
Debu Tripathy, MD, shown during a trip to Egypt, enjoys cooking and
playing piano. His favorite travel destination is Istanbul, Turkey.
Image courtesy of D. Tripathy, MD
The meeting is emblematic of the bridging of new scientific developments
and their applications in clinical practice for the prevention, diagnosis and
treatment of breast cancer. The last year has brought remarkable new findings
in gene analysis and new therapeutics combined with hormonal therapy and
HER-2targeted drugs that will change standards of care. From the
revolution in genomic, epigenetic and proteomic technology to personalized
decision-making and targeted drugs that yield incremental improvement in
outcome, todays cancer specialists must think like scientists,
clinicians, statisticians and psychologists all at the same time.
Our faculty represents a spectrum of researchers and clinicians from
academic and community practice backgrounds. The topics of genetics, screening
and prevention, and the treatment of both early-stage and advanced disease each
incorporate science and best clinical evidence to outline new paradigms and
ongoing controversies. Interactive panel discussions and audience participation
will also put into perspective several key advances over the last year.
by Rob Volansky