East Bay native Jo Chien is part of a team of researchers aiming to change the way cancer research is conducted. The Harvard-educated MD arrived at UCSF in 2009 to complete her oncology fellowship and is now the principal investigator for the university’s portion of I-SPY 2. In a briefly edited interview, Chien discussed the project’s mission and its future.
Q: How is I-SPY 2 different than I-SPY 1?
A: I came here as I-SPY 1 was wrapping up and didn’t directly participate in it, but the original trial was focused on study rather than intervention. We would look at the results of treatment but not dictate what they received. We were trying to determine if an MRI could predict responses to therapy in I-SPY 1.
I-SPY 2 is a treatment trial where we try to understand the tumor’s biology and the individual’s genomic profile. This trial takes data in real-time and helps us determine what kinds of tumors respond to what kind of drugs.
Q: Why is it important to distinguish between tumor types?
A: For a long time, all breast cancers were treated the same; if you have breast cancer, you have surgery and then go on chemotherapy. We’ve changed that understanding in recent years and are trying to find how specific tumor types respond to specific treatments. We’re looking at the proteins and genetic components in various tumors to gather that data.
Ideally, the research we conduct nationwide will help us predict effective treatments for give patients with specific types of tumors.
Q: What is unique about this trial?
A: What’s unique to me is the collaboration between clinicians, researchers and industry. It’s unprecedented. We had a lot of input from patient advocacy groups while developing this trial to insure their needs were met. The information technology is also impressive. The way we are able to compile and share data between the 20 participating sites is a platform I’ve never worked with before.
Q: Are there any misconceptions associated with this trial you want to clear up?
A: I haven’t encountered misconceptions about this specific trial, but misconceptions about clinical trials in general. People often associate clinical trials as something you do at the end of the road when there is no other hope.