Can you give us a brief overview of your background and explain where your passion for IR began?
Originally from Berlin, Germany, I completed major portions of my post-graduate training in the United States. I first came here as a research student in 2009 and worked on my thesis within the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven. Back then, I had no idea IR even existed and focused on my degree in molecular cell biology, investigating mechanisms of proteasomal degradation of the hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha. Working on such basic concepts excited me, and I quickly developed profound interest in cancer biology. Almost by coincidence, I attended the CIRSE meeting in Munich in 2011 and quickly understood the potential of image-guided cancer therapy. It was love at first sight. After the completion of my degree and upon graduating from medical school back in Germany, I came to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore towards the end of 2012 where I began a postdoctoral fellowship in Interventional Oncology. I had the unique opportunity to work on both basic science as well as on clinical and translational research projects. I learned how to handle the VX2 rabbit tumor model of liver cancer, I investigated the role of tumor metabolism in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer and in parallel delved deep into the role of image guidance and image analysis in locoregional therapies of liver cancer. I also learned a great deal about clinical trial design. I worked and published with unique and inspiring leaders in cancer research such as Prof. Bert Vogelstein who is the most frequently cited researcher of all time and Prof. Gregg Semenza, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine. I then returned to the Charité University Hospital in Berlin to begin my radiology residency and was then recruited back to Yale Radiology in 2016 where I have been ever since.
What unique perspectives does being a physician-scientist provide, compared to solely research scientists, in the field? What are some additional rewards and challenges that come with that title?
Being a physician-scientist means having a unique ability to “speak both languages”, the language of science and the language of clinical patient care. I was initially surprised to find out how segregated those two fields can be in academic medicine and it’s really important to assume the role of a bridging element between the two. One has to be able to offer both clinical competency and a scientific record with original research and extramural grant funding to be fully accepted into this role. Once the relationships are established, sky truly is the limit. Being able to work with clinical physicians and basic scientists on shared projects is exciting and very rewarding. At times, this work almost feels like a mission to break down silos and interventional radiology as a relatively new specialty is far behind. As opposed to medicine and surgery, we have very few physician-scientists in our field and only very few laboratories around the country that are fully dedicated to original research in IR. Many medical school graduates unfortunately view research as a “CV bonus”, a must-have by convention, but once they match into a residency program only few want to fully commit to this at times very challenging and time consuming journey. However, the tides are clearly turning and most programs and especially our professional society has begun to understand that our future lies in innovation and scientific ownership of the problems and diseases that we treat clinically.
Please describe your typical work week- since you have the unique responsibility of balancing resident duties with running a fully funded, productive research lab in Interventional Oncology?
Since you have successfully navigated this process before, can you give details on establishing/negotiating dedicated research time in residency? What to look for in a supportive program? And how budding physician-scientists can establish themselves in the field and go about thinking about starting labs of their own?
Tell us more about the one-year fellowships introducing medical students from Europe to the radiology research world in the US through your lab? How has it been working with these students?
Please share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist? Budding researchers would take inspiration from this.
Please describe your field of research, what’s upcoming/can we get excited about?
Do you have any advice for trainees seeking research projects in IR? Specifically, deciding on investigators, and topics of study?
What is your overarching end goal for your work as a researcher in the field?
Interview by Rohil Malpani, Yale School of Medicine ‘21