Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Meet The Researcher | Physiology & Pharmacology | D.D.S./Ph.D. | March 12, 2015
“Nick has the unique ability to see the big picture. It’s
very rare in science let alone someone who is so junior in their career,” Dr. Susan
Mooberry, professor of pharmacology.
The idea of seeing the big picture is key to Nick Dybdal-Hargreaves’s
work as a D.D.S./Ph.D. student in the COSTAR Training Program.
His goal is to
become a clinician scientist and to treat head/neck cancer patients both in the
clinic and in the lab.
“The reason I am
interested in being a clinician scientist is because seeing why it matters
really motivates the scientific side even more,” Dybdal-Hargreaves said. “It
helps place what you are doing in the lab in the real world. It’s so easy to be
in your lab secluded from everyone else without realizing what you are doing
really can transform patient care.”
He explained that
a person he admires is Dr. Brian Schmidt who is a D.D.S., M.D., Ph.D. at New York University Medical Center.
"His research is
really fascinating to me because he has a large lab and he treats patients
himself and as long as they consent, he’s able to take those samples
immediately to the lab where he can take a look at those samples, identify molecular
features which define this person’s cancer and take it into a mouse model and
maybe see what drugs might interact with this cancer,” Dybdal-Hargreaves said.
Currently, he is working in Dr. Mooberry’s lab where he is
working on a project to understand why certain cancer drugs work or don’t work
at a molecular level.
“We know more and
more in cancer that it’s typically more effective to treat a patient with a
cocktail of drugs so you can avoid acquired or innate resistances and try to
get closer to a cure,” Dybdal-Hargreaves said. “Often the optimal combinations
to use for each patient are not known, ideally we’d be able to look at a
patient’s tumor and be able, based on the molecular profile, to identify the
most effective combination to use.”
For him, the D.D.S./Ph.D. program gives him the training and
ability to express his creativity.
“I love playing piano and guitar so doing things with your
hands is something I really enjoy so seeing a profession where you actively
practice surgery and things with your hands daily resonates with me,” he
In December, Nick applied for a National Research Service
Award (F30) which will enable him to work on a new project that will investigate
oral cancer cell lines that are differently sensitive to drugs used in the
clinic and try to understand why they are differently sensitive.
“Head and neck cancers are an understudied cancer. It’s
increasing in occurrence and its prognosis hasn’t improved in the last 40 years
so it’s an area that I really want to focus on specifically bringing more
therapeutics for treatment to complement surgery and radiation therapy.”
He explained that the project he will be working on is
important to advancing cancer care.
“It’s like doing a puzzle. You know that there is some best
answer but you are not sure of what it is. You get these ideas of what it is
and the lab is where you get to play and test if these pieces fit together,” he
said. “At the end of the day, unlike a puzzle, you’ll never truly complete it
but you’ll get a better picture of what it is. That I find really satisfying.”
This article is part of the "Meet The Researcher" series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.
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