249: Azra Raza | Myelodysplastic Syndromes And Current Oncology In “The First Cell”

When it comes to cancer treatment, Dr. Azra Raza of the MDS Center at Columbia University has been working with patients for decades. She is an expert on myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), which are disorders caused by poorly formed or otherwise nonfunctional blood cells, and acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which affects 1/3 of MDS patients. This type of cancer, along with the stories of many patients and the progressions of their treatment, is detailed in Dr. Raza’s book The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last.

Dr. Azra Raza is the Chan Soon-Shiong Professor of Medicine and Director of Myelodysplastic Syndrome Center at Columbia University. She has previously held positions at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, University of Cincinnati, Rush University, and the University of Massachusetts, and has been published in numerous notable journals like The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Blood, and Cancer.

One of the items I found most interesting was that Dr. Raza has collected a repository of over 50000 tissue samples from MDS and acute leukemia patients, beginning in the early 1980s. We talk about this in the episode, but I find a lot of value in being the firsthand resource in some specific category or field.

Show notes:

  • how Dr. Raza got into her career in the first place, and specifically into the field of MDS treatment
  • the 50000+ patient tissue samples that Dr. Raza has collected, and what they mean to potential research that can be done today
  • why mouse models do not provide a good representation of how a treatment will work in people
  • how Dr. Raza’s tissue sample data compare with the collection of samples presented in a Nature article/study of many types of cancer
  • the search for valid biomarkers that represent an issue or non-issue
  • how being the individual who does the most in one specific category makes you the prime source
  • what the reductionist philosophy can do if it is taken too far in responding to a health-disturbing pathogen
  • cancer not being of one type, but instead quickly altering generation by generation, leads to a variety of cancer cells showing up
  • why the first cell is the most important one in the production of cancer
  • the likelihood of treating an average cancer patient in 2020, and the associated mortality
  • how there is much value in early testing for cancers
  • the difference between something working in spite of something or because of something
  • some of the experience shared with fellow lab mate Siddhartha Mukherjee, and a message from his research insight
  • a great closing poem by Dr. Raza

It was wonderful to have Dr. Raza on the show. You can check out The First Cell on Amazon, Dr. Azra’s Columbia University page, or a talk she gave with fellow lab mate researcher Siddartha Mukherjee.