The Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN)
is proud to announce that we have been
designated a Marine Corps Marathon (MCM)
Charity Partner! BCAN has been allocated
25 guaranteed entries for the 38th Annual
Marine Corps Marathon to be held on
October 27, 2013; an event that sold
out in 2 hours and 41 minutes in 2012.
Andrea B. Apolo, M.D., is Assistant Clinical Investigator at the Medical Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute. She oversees clinical trials for patients with bladder, urothelial and prostate cancer through the NCI’s Center for Cancer Research.
What drew your interest to bladder cancer in the first place?
During my fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering I dedicated my research focus on bladder cancer. I quickly became aware of the great need to better understand the disease and to find better therapies.
How did you connect with BCAN?
When I became an attending at the NCI, my mentors at Memorial Sloan Kettering suggested that I participate in the annual Think Tank meeting. They told me that it was a small focused meeting where I may have a lot to contribute with my research and new ideas.
Can you describe your experience as a participant at the Bladder Cancer Think Tank and now being co-chair for the 2013 Think Tank?
The annual BCAN Think Tank is a great meeting. I really enjoy meeting and interacting with colleagues from around the country who have the same passion and mission that I have in improving the lives of people with bladder cancer. The nice thing about it is that there are physicians from multiple specialties and other health care providers. What I really like also is that there are young investigators and very senior investigators. Some people have been doing research in bladder cancer for over 20 years and they have published a lot of the papers that we use as dogma for the treatment of bladder cancer and they’re there and they contribute to the meeting. Interacting with all of those people is a lot of fun and it’s also good to discuss ideas and future projects with them. I’m very excited and humbled at the same time to be co-chair next year. Together with the program committee we hope to put together important topics that we deal with in treating issues in bladder cancer, including genomics and molecular biology. .
What is your main research focus?
I’m a clinical investigator and I’m interested in developing and designing clinical trials for new targeted therapies, specifically in bladder cancer. Right now I have a special interest in anti-angiogenic agents that block the growth of new blood vessels. I’m also interested in targeting the immune system to see how we can get that to work in our favor to treat bladder tumors.
Can you elaborate on your work in imaging and with the FDG-PET study?
In addition to the therapeutic trials I always have imaging projects. We look at different tracers in PET scans or different imaging modalities to see if we can detect bladder cancer better than we do now.
We published a small study on the sensitivity of FDG-PET in detecting metastatic bladder cancer. Other people have followed and have confirmed our findings. I think more and more people are using PET scans in addition to anatomical imaging such as CT scan to detect bladder cancer either in the muscle-invasive setting or the metastatic setting or to follow during treatment. We’re still learning about following treatment related changes on FDG/PET. The study that we ran was more for initial diagnosis, either in the muscle-invasive or metastatic setting.
How did you get interested in that imaging side of things?
I did it as a side project when I was at Memorial Sloan Kettering and we published the results. Ever since then I’ve been really interested in imaging. Working with new tracers for imaging and even possibly for therapeutic benefit is exciting. I run the imaging protocols here at the NCI for prostate cancer too.
What do you see in the future for bladder cancer?
There is a true unmet need in bladder cancer to find therapies that are effective and the only way of accomplishing this is through scientific research. We’re really behind if you think about other tumor types in terms of targeted therapies, in terms of what we have to offer that actually prolongs survival in patients with bladder cancer and yes, bladder cancer is very aggressive. There’s been no FDA approved agent for bladder cancer in over 20 years. I think the only way to find better therapies is to understand molecular pathways that govern its growth and its spread. We need more funding for bladder cancer and in addition to doing my own research, I hope that my involvement with BCAN will also help to increase awareness and bring in more research dollars to study bladder cancer.
Can you talk more about the work being done with targeted therapies?
We’re looking at genetic components and the pathways that are activated in the metastatic setting in tumors. We’re looking at molecules that are present in serum and blood of patients with bladder cancer so we’re really looking through many mechanisms to see what’s actually going on so we can learn a little bit more about it. It’s a very complicated tumor, bladder cancer, urothelial cancer, it has multiple mutations and they change as the tumor progresses and they may be different in different metastatic sites. I think understanding the changes that are going on is going to be key. All of that is science research. That is the only way that we are going to find effective therapies.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I spend time with my family. That’s something that’s very important to me. I have two boys. It’s a lot of fun to spend time with them, playing trains or running around the playground. I also enjoy running and swimming. I ran the marathon in New York City in 2010, which was a great accomplishment. In college, I was on the swim team but I think they only kept me on the team because I brought the GPA up for the team not because of my swimming speed.
Interview conducted by Vanessa Hoffman
4915 St. Elmo Avenue, Suite 202, Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Copyright © 2013 Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network