Dr. Katy Rezvani, MD, PhD is a Director of Translational Research and Professor in the Department of Stem Cell Transplantation, at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, Texas. She completed her MBBS in Medicine at University College in London, England in 1993 and completed her PhD in Transplant Immunology from Imperial College in London, England in 2005. She has a vast amount of postgraduate training conducted in the Hematology Branch NHLBI, NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Rezvani has received multiple awards and grants,including two Leukemia Lymphoma Society Translational Research Program Grants,a Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society, and two RO1’s from the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Rezvani has an active research lab which studies transplantation immunology with a focus on the role of natural killer cells in mediating immunity against hematologic disorders, such as acute leukemia, as well as in solid tumors. Her lab is trying to understand the mechanisms behind tumor-induced natural killer cell dysfunction, with a goal to develop alternative ways to enhance the natural killer cell effector function against tumors. Dr. Rosa-Maria Ferraiuolo, JoLS Editorial Coordinator, spoke to Dr. Rezvani recently and these are the excerpts:
RM:Your latest research published in the New England Journal of Medicine where 8 of 11 patients responded to your therapy, with 7 of those patients achieving a complete response, is groundbreaking for immunotherapeutic approaches to cancer. What was your reaction when the results of the clinical trial started accumulating? Will you be increasing the patient population size? How long do you follow your patients (even after the 13.8months follow-up time)?
KR:Words cannot explain the delight that we all felt when we saw our patients respond. Simply put, we were ecstatic! We plan to enroll additional patients, and we will continue to follow the patients long-term (up to 15 years).
RM:Would you like to share a little bit about your research and what your next steps are?
KR:We areworking with our commercial partner Takeda Pharmaceutical to develop a large multicenter study to treat more patients with refractory lymphoid cancer with CAR NK cells, with the objective of obtaining FDA approval for our product. In addition, in my lab, we are working on engineering natural killer cells totarget other types of hematologic and solid tumors.
RM:Aside from publishing your work in journals, what type of steps do you take to try and get more physicians and/or researchers aware and interested in your work to try and get patients around the world treated the same way?
KR:Present our data at scientific meetings and patient forums
RM:Was it always your dream to be an MD/PhD?
KR:Yes, ever since I was a little girl I wanted to do medicine and during my training I became very interested in immunology
RM:What was your main motivation when you began your research and has that changed over the years? If so, what is your motivation for your research now?
KR:When I first started my PhD back in early 2000, the field of tumor immunotherapy had a lot of skeptics. The field has changed tremendously in the last decade with the advent of checkpoint inhibitors and the recent developments in cell therapy and cell engineering. We live in exciting times.
RM:What words of wisdom would you have for future generations trying to make their first in research?
KR:Persevere, collaborate and think outside the box
RM:Did you ever have instances in your postgraduate work when you suddenly had qualms about your chosen research area or your career path? If so, could you recall what triggered that self-doubt and how you handled that to accomplish what you have today?
KR:Absolutely! There is nothing more disheartening than having your experiment fail, your paper rejected or your grant application turned down. It is important not to take it personally and to persevere.
RM:What was the biggest obstacle you had to face to reach your position?
KR:My own self-doubt.
RM:What is one of your favorite things about your research/being a scientist?
KR:To see our work translated to directly benefit patients in the clinic
RM:How does a work-life balance affect the quality of being a productive researcher?
KR:You have to make a lot of sacrifices but it is still possible to have fulfilling relationships and friendships. In fact, to be a successful researcher, it is very important to have a social structure and support of loved ones.
RM:Is there a scientist (past or present) in your field that you look up to or admire and why?
KR:Yes, my mentor Professor John Goldman- he inspired me to be creative, to follow my dreams and to never, ever give up.
RM:How do you unwind on a daily basis?
KR:I have a wonderful husband, a lovely dog and a sweet cat- I enjoy coming home to them every night!
RM:What is your favorite fiction or non-fiction book?
KR:I only read fiction- my top 3 favorite fiction books are: Midnight’s children by Salma Rushdie; One hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
RM:Would you like to provide a single sentence that the graduate students and postdocs can print out and post at their bench or desk (i.e. words to live by)?
KR:Be fiercely tenacious, don’t let your self-doubts be used as an excuse for anything, and never, ever compromise your standards.