Josh Lang, MD, is a medical oncologist and researcher at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Through a brief Q and A, Dr. Lang shares his thoughts about his research and the future of cancer treatment.
Your expertise lies in cancer research that translates into new treatments. What does that mean for cancer patients?
The UW Carbone Cancer Center provides an amazing resource to the people of Wisconsin, with the facilities to develop and deliver better treatments for cancer. My position allows me to leverage this resource to utilize these new tests and treatments for patients now. However, it also allows me to identify the most critical areas of need for laboratory and clinical research. We are able to better focus our time on developing new tests that we can bring into the clinic to improve cancer care for patients in Wisconsin
Explain your research in circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and cancer drug development.
The great hope in circulating tumor cell research is that we can capture tumor cells from a simple blood draw without having to perform a biopsy. The challenge lies in developing technology to capture that one tumor cell out of, roughly, one billion normal blood cells. If successful, CTCs would be a new way to directly monitor the effect new drugs are having on tumor cells. We can then begin to ask who will benefit most from new treatments, what dose would be most effective and how do tumors become resistant to anti-cancer therapies. For example, in the last year, new hormone targeting drugs for men with prostate cancer have been shown to improve survival. Unfortunately, these drugs eventually fail and, due to the costs and challenges with performing biopsies, we don't understand how these tumors became resistant. If we had tumor cells to study in the lab, we might be able to design new and better treatments. Circulating tumor cells may be ideal for these types of studies for patients with any type of cancer.
What is unique about the team environment in advancing cancer research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison?
The primary mission of the University is to improve the lives of all. This amazing institution has a breadth of research across the physical and biologic sciences that few others possess. Engaging and collaborating with investigators who don't commonly work in cancer research stimulates new ideas and new solutions. From Biomedical Engineering to Chemistry to Physics, the UW Carbone Cancer Center brings us together to develop patient-focused solutions that we can bring to the clinic.
What do you envision cancer research will be like in five years from now? 10 years?
We are at a critical juncture, with oncologists just learning how to use genomic information to improve patient care. Over the next five years, we will become more adept at incorporating this information into clinical research to find out what is truly important in genomic data to improve cancer care. The major challenge over the next 10 years will be moving beyond genomics into clinical research with RNA, protein and cellular function. This type of work will give a truly comprehensive understanding of not just how cancers develop, but how to optimally treat cancers no matter the stage.
When you are not treating patients or conducting research, can you tell us what your outside hobbies are?
Outside of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, I spend my time with my family, coaching my sons' soccer teams, hiking and biking on the amazing trails in Wisconsin.