The Cancer Questions Project, Part 17: Benjamin Ebert

Dr. Benjamin Ebert is remarkable for his leadership in describing the genomic landscape of adult myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), including identifying critical new roles for ribosomal dysfunction. His laboratory discovered the molecular basis of lenalidomide activity in MDS as well as multiple myeloma. Recent studies have identified clonal hematopoiesis and its contribution to both hematologic malignancies and cardiovascular disease. Along with human genetic studies, Dr. Ebert’s lab has made significant contributions to understanding the biological basis of the transformation of hematopoietic cells by somatic mutations. Currently, he is chair of the medical oncology department at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Azra Raza, author of The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, oncologist and professor of medicine at Columbia University, and 3QD editor, decided to speak to more than 20 leading cancer investigators and ask each of them the same five questions listed below. She videotaped the interviews and over the next months we will be posting them here one at a time each Monday. Please keep in mind that Azra and the rest of us at 3QD neither endorse nor oppose any of the answers given by the researchers as part of this project. Their views are their own. One can browse all previous interviews here.

1. We were treating acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with 7+3 (7 days of the drug cytosine arabinoside and 3 days of daunomycin) in 1977. We are still doing the same in 2019. What is the best way forward to change it by 2028?

2. There are 3.5 million papers on cancer, 135,000 in 2017 alone. There is a staggering disconnect between great scientific insights and translation to improved therapy. What are we doing wrong?

3. The fact that children respond to the same treatment better than adults seems to suggest that the cancer biology is different and also that the host is different. Since most cancers increase with age, even having good therapy may not matter as the host is decrepit. Solution?

4. You have great knowledge and experience in the field. If you were given limitless resources to plan a cure for cancer, what will you do?

5. Offering patients with advanced stage non-curable cancer, palliative but toxic treatments is a service or disservice in the current therapeutic landscape?