What are you researching?
In this project, we are working alongside Castle Biosciences. Castle has created a gene profile to further characterize cutaneous melanoma that may be used in addition or separate to traditional AJCC staging. Using this information, we hope to more accurately predict the spread and invasion of an individual's cancer. This information can be used to allow the patient to have a better understanding of their prognosis as well as assisting the physician in proper treatment course. In addition to comparing predictive outcomes using Castle's gene profiling and outcomes observed, we are creating a holistic database of nearly 5,000 patients that can be utilized to compare many different aspects of cutaneous melanoma including but not limited to: BMI, sex, age of onset, and concurrent or previous cancers. Our hope is that this database can be expanded to include other academic centers for accurate and comprehensive analysis of cutaneous melanoma, its genetics, and environmental factors.
How could the results benefit patients?
Our evaluation of nearly 5,000 patients will benefit both current and future melanoma patients. If our study is consistent with those done elsewhere, then the Castle gene profile will be a useful prognostic tool for cutaneous melanoma. For current or recent patients, we will be able to analyze the gene profile of their specific cancer and predict recurrence and future prognosis if the patient chooses to do so. This can assist physicians in decision making for monitoring and testing frequency. For future patients, more informed decisions can be made regarding aggressive treatment and monitoring of their diagnosis.
Tell us why you enjoy research.
Research has easily exceeded my expectations. Dr. Christine Schammel and Dr. Steven Trocha have dedicated a large quantity of time to ensuring that we not only understand what we are doing but also its medical importance and application beyond this specific project. They go out of their way to give us advice and experiences that far exceed those offered in the classroom. Research has taught me better time management and given me confidence that I can not only learn new and difficult information, but also that I am capable of having in depth academic and medical conversations with those around me. If nothing else, I have gained two mentors that I know I can reach out to and will support me throughout not only medical school but my entire career.
What advice would you give to other students considering doing a research project?
Do it. Research can seem daunting. It is a time commitment and something that may be new to you. However, I have learned so much more about the hospital, cutaneous melanoma, and working in a team than I would have been able to in the classroom. Be open with your physicians about both your fears and expectations. We have so many people willing to pour time and knowledge into each of us. If we communicate clearly, then the mentors are almost always willing to work with you or will let you know up front that the project may not be the proper fit for you. It is tough at times, but the knowledge and relationships are certainly worth it in the end.