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Cover Story
Dr. Maie St. John is one of many physician-scientists at the JCCC who benefit from philanthropic support. Photo: Reed Hutchinson.

JCCC Supports Top Notch Physician-Scientists

Over the past 60 years, philanthropic support for research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) has enabled great strides in the fight against cancer. Ongoing research has allowed investigators to invent new technologies, create targeted therapies and begin to develop a molecular understanding of the disease. These advances have led to a stronger relationship between the lab and the clinic as theories developed in the lab are transformed into treatment options for patients.

UCLA has a rich history of training and fostering the careers of physician-scientists. One such physician-scientist at the JCCC is Maie St. John, M.D., Ph.D. St. John decided on her calling early in life while accompanying her grandfather, a doctor, on house calls in Zagazig, Egypt. One particular visit to the home of a woman, whose tumor had overtaken a large portion of her face, inspired St. John to focus her life on treating and defeating cancer. After completing both her doctorate and her medical degree at Yale University, St. John came to UCLA for her surgical residency, where she was recognized for both skills in the lab and the operating room.

Dr. Judy Gasson, director of the JCCC, appreciates the growing importance of these physician researchers and their valuable contributions in the fight against cancer. These scientists, who have obtained both a M.D. and Ph.D., offer a unique perspective as they are involved in the creation of new therapies in the lab and are quick to see the clinical applications as they introduce them to their patients. “It’s critically important to foster the growth of these physician researchers. Thanks to philanthropic dollars, we are able to provide much needed support for promising individuals like Maie who are beginning their independent careers,” states Gasson.

Following completion of her residency, St. John was offered a faculty position in the UCLA Department of Surgery and, thanks to the support of the JCCC, has been able to pursue both of her passions–medicine and research. “The Jonsson Cancer Center was my lifeline as a developing scientist. Judy Gasson and the Cancer Center gave me the opportunity to collaborate in the lab while maintaining a clinical practice at UCLA Medical Center,” says St. John.

Since joining the JCCC, St. John has had the opportunity to work in the lab of a more senior JCCC member, Dr. Steven Dubinett, who directs the JCCC Thoracic Cancer Research Program and the Specialized Program of Research Excellence in lung cancer. St. John is researching the process of metastasis, or spread of cancer. Specifically, St. John and her colleagues are examining a molecule called E-cadherin which keeps cancer cells stuck together and helps prevent their spread.

As a newly-minted JCCC member, St. John also can participate in monthly gatherings of physician-researchers from the departments of medicine, surgery, urology, pediatric oncology and obstetrics/gynecology. These JCCC-sponsored meetings further promote collaboration across research areas and can lead to new strategies and more targeted approaches to fight cancer.

The impact of this new generation of clinician-scientists will only increase in the coming years. Investing philanthropic funds today to nurture talented individuals like Maie St. John will most certainly yield healthy results.

© 2007 UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation. All Rights Reserved