An Interview with Scientific Advisory Board Member: Dr. Corrie Painter

An Interview with Scientific Advisory Board Member: Dr. Corrie Painter

Listen to the interview.

Please introduce yourself.

I'm Corrie Painter. I'm the deputy director of an initiative called Count Me In out of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. And I am 11 years out from a diagnosis of breast angiosarcoma. I was diagnosed while getting my PhD in biochemistry, and I'm now looking toward ways that I can try and build resources that will help us figure out not just this disease, but all cancers.

Before your diagnosis, were you at the Broad Institute? Were you interested in this translational medicine research, or was this what got you interested in it?

Dr. Corrie Painter: Before I came to the Broad, I was a grad student and postdoc at UMass Medical School in Massachusetts. And my passion and my scientific love has always been biochemistry. I was a structural biochemist as a grad student, and I was going to take those skills to be a postdoc studying ALS, because I had a very close friend that was dying from that really awful disease. As that was going on, I felt the lump in my breast and was diagnosed with my own very awful flavor of cancer, and decided that I was going to switch to dedicating whatever scientific acumen I had to understanding cancer. And I realized I couldn't probably study my very own disease because it's so rare. It only gets about 300 people a year, that I would try and just do whatever was the most impactful for anybody with cancer. And I ended up studying melanoma, and doing that as a postdoc, and then that parlayed into my current position at the Broad Institute, where I'm working with a group of very talented scientists and clinicians and other administrators to launch these patient-partnered cancer genomics research studies.

What got you interested in joining FidoCure® Scientific Advisory Board?

Dr. Corrie Painter: I was really interested in the platform that FidoCure® has generated for a number of different reasons. I've been interested in translational cancer research since the first year that I was diagnosed and realized that dogs get the same crazy, rare cancer that I had, but they get it. It's very common in dogs. And it was both a philosophical curiosity that I could have something in common with my canine friends, but also very practical in terms of thinking of models of disease, and how is cancer being studied and approached in canine populations? And is there any room that we could work together, because there's power in numbers? And if I only have 300 fellow people in this country that have this disease, but there are many thousands of pet doggies that are running around suffering also, maybe we could all kind of band together in order to better understand and treat both two-legged and four-legged creatures at the same time.

So how are angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma related? I think they're... Is it the same mutation? Is it different on the DNA for dogs and humans? How does that work?

Dr. Corrie Painter: There's a lot of similarities between human and dog angiosarcoma. And it's funny, they sound different in the way that they're called. It's angiosarcoma in a human and hemangiosarcoma in a dog. But if a pathologist is looking at what the tumor looks like, it would look very similar in both species. Both are formed from proliferations of what looks like blood vessels. So they have the same kind of basic biology underlying them. And more recently, both from the human side and from the canine side, there's been an interest in understanding the changes that are happening at the level of the DNA.

And it turns out that some of the same things that are driving human cancers are often are also driving the canine cancers. And because of the similarities, both in the biology, as well as down to the molecular level, it stands to reason that one may be a good model system for the other. So maybe if something is working in a human, that same thing might work in a dog, and vice versa. If something is working in a dog, maybe that same thing would work in a human, because we're looking at a very similar disease in two different species.

That's pretty amazing, that we've been able to figure out that connection. And hopefully, this brings us closer to cures for both. Do you think that we'll see a cure for this cancer, or for any cancer in the next 20 years, 50 years? What are your thoughts on when?

Dr. Corrie Painter: I don't think there's ever going to be a cure for cancer. I think there's going to be a lot of different treatments that are very effective over time. And I think we already see that in a lot of different cancers that were once completely intractable. I think childhood leukemia was once not treatable. Stage four melanoma is oftentimes still deadly, but there are some subsets of people that are alive and without evidence of disease many years now after having immunotherapies. The different treatments that work in some of these cancers don't work for all cancers. And so it's a question of what we need to know and understand and learn across a variety of different diseases that are all grouped together under this word cancer, and figure out how to treat each one.

I think there's a lot of hope with respect to what we can do to harness our immune system. I think there's a lot of hope that we can bring in terms of understanding the genomics and the ability to target different genes that are aberrantly effected in cancers. I think, on the frontier, is learning how to combine different medicines that we weren't able to do before, because it's  difficult to study and we didn't know enough about the genomics, nor do we have a big enough arsenal in order to truly come at this from a lot of different angles at once. But maybe by employing clinical trials across different species, we'll have the numbers and the ability and the nimbleness to address questions that we never were able to before. And in that way, accelerate our ability to treat cancer and have both people and dogs and every other creature affected by these awful diseases live a longer, better life with a higher quality.

Thank you. And just one last question about data and data collection and outcome data. That's so important. What would you say to encourage people to share more, to be a part of the FidoCure programs, so we can collect outcome data and help to pass on that information for future studies?

Dr. Corrie Painter:  I think in general, people should feel empowered to be part of the solution in our efforts to understand cancer, and that we're trying to build an infrastructure that really enables that across a lot of different domains. And if given the opportunity, and you want to... Some people may not necessarily want to participate, and that's totally fine, too. But for those who are really interested in becoming part of research, really helping understand what happens, we need to collect data across the entire spectrum, and that includes what happens after you're done with your doctor's visit, after you've received therapy.

And so, collecting longitudinal data, follow-up data, data after the fact, is going to help us understand what happened as a result of some type of intervention, some type of therapy, some type of change in behavior that we just don't necessarily have good information on yet. And I think that deeper collecting of that longitudinal data is going to be transformative in our understanding cancer.

Amazing. Thank you so much, Dr. Painter.

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