When you visit with Don Nguyen, he’ll tell you again and again that he’s a basic scientist. It is true, but Nguyen is anything but basic or ordinary.
The Assistant Professor of Pathology at Yale has his Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Rochester. He’s won a Scholar Award from the V Foundation for Cancer Research and another from the Yale. And now he’s the recipient of the Young Investigator Award from the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC).
Nguyen and three other candidates representing North America, Asia and Europe, were awarded research funding for two years after competing with a global pool of applicants. Applications were evaluated by an international scientific review panel for their merit, innovation and potential impact on the management of lung cancer. The goal for IASLC is to reward scientific excellence and to encourage innovative research in lung cancer prevention and translational medicine worldwide.
He is currently working to find the pathways that metastatic lung cancer cells employ to spread to other organs, resulting in patient death. As he explains, a significant challenge in diagnosing and treating lung cancer is the existence of various lung cancer subtypes, each with variable clinical responses to current treatment regimens. Nguyen’s approach is to reveal the origins of metastatic lung adenocarcinoma, the most frequently diagnosed subtype of lung cancer, and their relative dependencies on molecular pathways of nutrient metabolism.
For example, the production of fatty acids is essential to all living cells, yet he says that metastatic lung cancer cells employ an alternative metabolic pathway to fulfill this function. He hopes to uncover how this alternative pathway is used specifically by the most aggressive lung adenocarcinomas, and whether such a mechanism contributes to their invasive behavior.
With the 2-year, $80,000 grant, Nguyen hopes the research might identify new pathways that scientists can target with therapies. In addition, he hopes it will help more accurately determine what patients will get metastases.
“It’s really difficult to predict the outcome for patients with lung cancer, much more challenging than breast cancer for instance,” Nguyen says.
Nguyen says the grant from the IASLC is critical to help young investigators get a hold and build momentum on new research.
“The IASLC funds innovative new ideas, ideas that are not established yet,” he says.
Dr. Tom Lynch is a mentor to Nguyen and the Director of the Yale Cancer Center.
“Don Nguyen is spectacular,” Lynch says. “He is intense, thoughtful. He asks great questions. He is part of the next generation of scientists.”
You’ll never hear that come out of Nguyen’s mouth though; after all he is a basic scientist.
To learn more about the IASLC, the Young Investigator Program and its funding sources, and to follow Dr. Nguyen’s progress, please visit www.iaslc.org/about-iaslc/fellowship-guidelines/.