Pancreatic cancer first came into my life when I was a 3rd year medical student working on the medicine wards. I was an eager physician in training still trying to figure out what type of doctor I would be and had the good fortune of meeting Mr. H and his family. He came in with some vague abdominal pain and nausea. A CT scan and biopsy unfortunately revealed that he had metastatic pancreatic cancer.

I learned a great deal of medicine as I watched him go through the maze of tests that we do for our cancer workups. However, as I learned all about the medical aspects of pancreatic cancer, I more importantly got to know Mr. H the person. He was a veteran, a loving husband, and a grandfather. I still remember his stories about driving the jeep for the naval commanders in the Pacific theater in World War II. His family showered this wonderful man with much love. Despite knowing that this cancer was ravishing his body, I have never witnessed such strength in him and his family. He and his family forever left an indelible impression on me.

Mr. H died a few weeks later. Although the cancer took him from us, he never let this cancer defeat him. It was from that day forward I knew I wanted to be an oncologist and that I would want to work on finding a way to cure this deadly disease. After completing medical training at Harvard Medical School I went on to internal medicine training at the Massachusetts General Hospital and then hematology/oncology training in the combined Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Massachusetts General Hospital program. During that time I cared for many patients with a variety of different cancers, and it is my patients and their families that compel me to do the much needed research to find better ways to treat this disease.

I pursued post-doctoral research in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Haber at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center working on circulating tumor cells in pancreatic cancer. In collaboration with the bioengineering laboratory of Dr. Mehmet Toner, we developed a microfluidics device that is able to catch tumor cells in the blood of patients. These rare cells offer a glimpse at how cancers spread and represent a novel cancer biomarker. My hope is to perform a detailed analysis of these cells to understand this metastatic spreading process so that we can develop new therapies to combat this disease. In addition, there is some evidence these cells may be detectable early in pancreatic cancer development and therefore may serve as a blood based early detection test.

With the support of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, I have been able to pursue my calling to work on this disease. As a young physician scientist, early grant support has been critical for me to define my research and provide the foundation for me to pursue an independent research position.

David T. Ting, MD
Clinical Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Assistant Physician in Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

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