Partha Banerjee, PhD: The Curability of Cancer

Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology

“I think the way I handle research is I believe in hard work, and you have to be honest and hardworking. Don’t give up even if a bad time comes – stay persistent and be focused on whatever you are doing.”

At Georgetown University since 2001

Not all prostate cancers are aggressive in nature.

In the lab, our goal is to understand why some prostate cancers are aggressive, while the majority of prostate cancers are not. Prostate cancer generally takes a very long time to grow. Usually, it is men in their 60’s or mid-to-late 60’s who start to feel some discomfort in the bladder and the lower abdomen region, so they go to a urologist and find out that they have cancer. In the last 50 years, physicians have treated every prostate cancer patient in a similar way with chemotherapy, radiation, etc. – but we have realized that not all cancers, and not all prostate cancers would require aggressive treatment. Now, there is a growing movement to recognize that not all prostate cancers are necessarily “aggressive” or lethal to the patient. Only 10% of cases are really aggressive and those are the specific prostate cancers that will metastasize to other parts of the body and the bone, cause a lot of pain, and ultimately cause the person to die. So, our interest in the lab is to find those aggressive prostate cancers, to identify the biomarkers for those aggressive cancers, and then target those aggressive cancers to increase disease-free survival.

“People think now-a-days that immunotherapy can cure all cancers, but I do not think that will be possible.”

I think it is very unrealistic, and for one cancer it could be applicable and for others, it may not. Prostate cancer is a very heterogeneous disease, therefore, immunotherapy might not work in the case of prostate cancer. If we are able to reduce the aggressiveness of prostate cancer, then the person even with prostate cancer could live a few more years, and then eventually die. Our goal has been to identify the factor that is making the prostate cancer cells so aggressive and five years ago we found one protein, a kinase TOPK/PBK, which is overexpressed in highly metastatic cancers. It is also involved in promoting metastasis and we are now finding that the kinase also regulates the number of stem genes, so the cancer stemness is also preserved. What we are seeing is that this kinase helps many oncogenes, which are the cancer-causing genes, and it inhibits many tumor suppressor genes by which cancer can become more aggressive and metastatic. We are trying to find a pharmacological or genetic way to slow down the aggressiveness of the cancer, perhaps by decreasing its metastatic potential or its ability to become cancer stem-like cells.

Believe in hard work.

Although science is always interesting, conducting scientific research is sometime frustrating. Every time you do research or an experiment, there is a chance it is not going to work. Your hypothesis is not going to be correct every time, but if your hypothesis is not correct then you have to change your thoughts and develop a new hypothesis based on your research results. If you want to achieve something, don’t be afraid – just try and do it. If someone else can do it then you probably can too. I think the way I handle research is I believe in hard work, and you have to be honest and hardworking. Don’t give up even if a bad time comes – stay persistent and be focused on whatever you are doing. Throughout my life, I always tell my students that if you work hard, it will pay off. All the successful people around us worked very hard at some point in their life to achieve that goal.

“If you have patience and you want to work hard, you can achieve your goal. But nothing can replace hard work, there are no shortcuts.”

Tea to start the morning.

Every time my family and I go to India, we bring back some good Darjeeling tea. I love good tea, so I start my day with a very large mug of Darjeeling tea every morning.