MCS Alumna Develops New Technologies for Early Cancer Detection
Cancer care is at a crossroads. Science has identified key genes and proteins that go awry and result in this life-threatening illness, yet major advancements in the treatment of the disease remain rare. That's because many cancers are discovered only after they have spread throughout the body, making them difficult to cure.
Carnegie Mellon alumna Amanda Paulovich (S’88) wants to change this picture. She says the key to improving early detection and treatment is using cancer's molecular footprints.
“A cancer that is localized can be cured virtually 100 percent of the time with surgery and locoregional radiation," explains Paulovich, director of the Early Detection Initiative at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “It’s so frustrating to be faced with the tiniest metastatic spot on an MRI scan and know that the cancer is incurable.”
Determined to improve the odds of survival for cancer patients, Paulovich, an oncologist and a geneticist, turned to her training in basic science.
“I wanted to use my science background to make an impact on cancer mortality, and the greatest chance of doing that in my lifetime is to focus on developing better technologies to detect cancer in its earliest and most curable stages,” she says.
Paulovich, who always wanted to be a physician, became passionate about basic research after attending the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS) at Carnegie Mellon. Her PGSS experience inspired her to attend Carnegie Mellon and pursue a degree in biology. During her first week on campus, she began working in the lab of John Woolford, professor of biological sciences . Her research there ultimately led to the publication of three papers, including one in which she was the first author.
Looking back, Paulovich realizes that doing such high caliber research as an undergraduate – and being treated as an equal in the lab – was a remarkable and empowering opportunity. “The experience I had as an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon has impacted how I manage my own team,” she says.
She also had the privilege of interacting with Elizabeth Jones, the Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences, and Susan Henry, former dean of the Mellon College of Science (MCS). “There are few women who fill big roles in science, so it’s important for young women to have exposure to female role models who have succeeded,” says Paulovich.
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1988, Paulovich went on to earn a doctor of medicine and a doctorate in genetics from the University of Washington under the guidance of Lee Hartwell, a Nobel laureate recognized for his discoveries of key molecules that regulate cell division and death.(Continued …)