Q&A With Lung Cancer Specialist Dr. Christine Lovly

Dr. Christine Lovly, Hematology and Oncology  by Susan Urmy

Dr. Christine Lovly, Hematology and Oncology
by Susan Urmy

We are proud of our long relationship with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville and the many scientists conducting excellent cancer research there. Christine M. Lovly, MD, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology-Oncology as well as Co-Leader, Translational Research and Interventional Oncology Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month coming up in November, we are pleased to share more information about Dr. Lovly’s outstanding lung cancer research.

Tell us a little about your cancer research at Vanderbilt.

I have the incredible honor of being a physician-scientist; someone who actively bridges the worlds of scientific research in the laboratory with patient care in the clinic. My clinical focus is on the care of patients with lung cancer, and my research laboratory focuses broadly on developing new cancer therapies and understanding why some existing therapies fail to work (or stop working, a concept we call drug resistance). For example, in my lab, we study certain specific mutations (such as EGFR, ALK, and ROS1) found in non-small cell lung cancer, and we also have a growing program to study small cell lung cancer, which is a very aggressive form of lung cancer. We work from the ground up to understand the key genetic and molecular events contributing to the development and progression of lung cancer, utilizing a variety of experimental techniques, including genomic and proteomic studies, protein modeling, and high throughput drug screens in order to obtain deep mechanistic insights into these events.  We work with patient derived cell lines and patient tumor samples, to make the research studies most relevant and most translatable back to the clinic. Our goal is always to use our laboratory research studies to develop new treatment strategies for lung cancer patients as quickly as possible.

Do you have a personal connection to cancer?

Sadly, I think we all have a personal connection to cancer. Cancer touches every one of us – our family, our friends, our co-workers, the people we interact with every day. We witness their struggles, but we also celebrate them and help in every way possible as they go through treatment. I think it is incredibly inspiring to see how people rally to help and support cancer patients; no one walks this journey alone (and no one should ever have to!). It takes a village. I feel a deep personal connection to the patients I work with in the clinic. I am honored to be part of their support team. I also feel so blessed to have a great team taking care of my mom, who has two different cancers. Even our beloved pets sometimes get cancer, like my dog, who is such an important member of my family. No one escapes it. It is always personal. And we all need support networks to help along the way. “Encourage, lift and strengthen one another. For the positive energy spread to one will be felt by us all. For we are connected, one and all.” – Quote by Deborah Day

Who introduced you to the T.J. Martell Foundation?

I was first introduced to the T.J. Martell Foundation in 2009, when I started my oncology specialty training at Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, TN. The T.J. Martell Foundation is so ingrained into the daily activities and culture of Vanderbilt and of the city of Nashville at large! I was fortunate at a very early stage in my career to be supported by the T.J. Martell Foundation to follow my passion to become a cancer researcher, and I am so grateful to be surrounded by many of the T.J. Martell Foundation advisors, including Dr. Hal Moses and Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol.  The impact of the support and networking that the T.J. Martell Foundation has provided at an early stage in my career cannot be under-emphasized.

What would you tell someone new to the Foundation and interested in getting involved?

I would say – start with the T.J. Martell Foundation website: https://www.tjmartell.org/how-you-can-help/ . There are so many opportunities to get involved, and all help is greatly appreciated. It takes a village! I would add, while most people really want to help and actively support cancer research, few people have actually seen cancer research in action. Through the T.J. Martell Foundation, we have organized tours of my research laboratory and other research laboratories at Vanderbilt. I think it is very impactful to see the work in progress and meet the researchers who are passionately engaged in making advances to help cancer patients. I would welcome anyone interested to visit us!

Patient Update: “I knew I would come out the other side just fine.”

Paul FitzpatrickWhen Paul was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in 2008, he wasn’t sure where to turn. “It was quite a shock being diagnosed with cancer at 27, and I felt like I’d been thrown into completely uncharted waters. But the doctors who the T.J. Martell Foundation referred me to at Mount Sinai in Manhattan took fantastic care of me. It was clear from the start that they were the experts in their field. When another team first recommended an aggressive course of chemo that could have been debilitating, Dr. James Holland reviewed my case and recommended a less invasive course of oral chemo so I never missed a day of work because of side effects.”

That was almost nine years ago, and Paul is now in remission. At the time, his doctors were unsure what quality of life he would be able to maintain longterm. But he has since welcomed three beautiful children and a few summers ago he rode 105 miles to support cancer patients and survivors in his home state of Connecticut.

“I don’t want to trivialize anything, but looking back almost a decade later, it almost feels like a non-event,” says Paul. “Thanks to the talented people at the T.J. Martell Foundation, I knew from the beginning of this process that I would come out the other side just fine.”