Research News

IU Simon Cancer Center Update - March

Mary A. Maxwell, Development Director, IU Simon Cancer Center
(Monday, April 23, 2012)
Indianapolis, Indiana Researchers are making discoveries every day at the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research Laboratories at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Meet David Flockhart, M.D., Ph.D., a cowboy boot-wearing, guitar-playing, kilt-wearing, beatboxing kind of guy who also happen to be saving lives with his research on personalized medicine.

Start with a pair of cowboy boots and a guitar, throw in a Scottish kilt and lilt, and then be prepared to watch some beatboxing on YouTube. Really. David Flockhart, M.D., Ph.D., a true Scotsman who is in touch with his inner cowboy, will readily show you a YouTube performance featuring his son, Andrew, beatboxing in an NYU a cappella performance competition: Not exactly what you would expect from a researcher who thrives on the stratification of disease targets and drug interaction data.

When Dave was a student in the 70s, the concept of personalized medicine was just as new to science as beatboxing is to music today. Working on his Ph.D., he was told he was in “way beyond my pay grade,” when he was attempting to convince his professor that drugs might work differently in each patient. He has since established himself as a pioneer and leader in the field of personalized medicine.

Globalizing Vera Bradley Research
Personalized medicine research is also revealing risk for disease. Dr. Flockhart is collaborating with three universities in China, where breast cancer has increased fourfold over the last 10 years. The likely culprit is in the collision of genetics with recent lifestyle changes: their one child policy, an increasingly Westernized diet, and the rise of type II diabetes.

“Personalized medicine is a juggernaut. Indiana University has recognized this and we are making our research contribution.

“Today we have a mature understanding of the biology of cancer. Technology is revealing cell signaling pathways that are "drugable" targets. The challenge will be for drug companies to make micro-sensitive drugs that respond to a particular subset of cancers instead of expecting the next blockbuster.”

Dave has a “virtual” lab in the Vera Bradley Foundation Laboratories for Breast&nbs[;Cancer Research. His computer is his laboratory; yet, his presence looms large as he mentors the laboratories’ youngest investigators. He focuses their interests and talents and then helps them create a research niche. “We have some real rock stars here,” and he’s not speaking of beatboxing; although, you never know.