My sister and fellow 3QD editor Azra Raza in Stat:
It’s a long way from where I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, to the dining room in Vice President Joe Biden’s home at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Yet that’s where I found myself one day last December, along with a handful of other cancer specialists. We had been invited to offer our perspectives on the current cancer landscape, which contributed to shaping the “cancer moonshot.” I’m convinced that my perspective on medicine as an immigrant is what ultimately got me to the table.
Early in my career as an oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., I treated a woman who was terminally ill with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). As her disease progressed, I watched her struggle to write letters for her 2-year-old twin daughters. She wanted them to read a letter from her on each of their birthdays until they turned 21. She died before she got to the ones for their 13th birthday.
That experience nearly broke my heart. It also suddenly clarified the purpose of my career. I realized that we needed a more comprehensive understanding of her disease. I needed to learn how pre-leukemia develops into leukemia, how it continues to evolve, and how it can be treated.
Had I received my scientific training in the United States, my immediate instinct probably would have been to develop a sophisticated mouse model to work on each of those steps. But because I was educated in Pakistan, I thought about taking a simpler approach — examining the cells of patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), an early-stage version of leukemia.