An Insider’s Perspective

Feb 27, 2020 | News, Research & Innovation

Dr. Monika Laszkowska, a gastroenterology fellow, next to the poster she presented at the 2019 TargetCancer Foundation Think Tank on Advancing Gastroesophageal Cancer Research. She shares her reflections on her experience at the meeting below.

Early in my gastroenterology fellowship at New York Presbyterian – Columbia University Irving Medical Center, I diagnosed several patients with stomach cancer – many with metastatic disease. I also saw many patients with precancerous lesions in the stomach, and I was struck by how little data we had to guide management for such patients in an evidence-based way. I wondered, how can we do better for our patients at risk of stomach cancer? I decided to dedicate my career to studying this question.

I was first introduced to the great work of the TargetCancer Foundation when I attended the 3rd Think Tank on Advancing Gastroesophageal Cancer Research that the foundation hosted on November 14-15, 2019 in Boston, MA. This conference provided a unique opportunity to spend two days elbow-to-elbow with many of the very researchers whose milestone publications I was regularly learning from and citing in my own work, creating the space to discuss the most cutting-edge advances in the world of gastroesophageal cancer.

One thing that struck me the most about this conference was not the similarities about the people in the room, but the differences. There were not only experts across clinical disciplines, but also basic scientists and epidemiologists, industry and diagnostic experts, and advocacy groups and patient-partnered research groups. Everyone was working on the same diseases, but from different angles, and seeing them come together to learn from one another in this way was something to admire.

At most major research conferences, sessions get split up into the most narrow of topics. There are the basic science talks, epidemiology talks, interventional talks, and public policy talks. Here, we had the full spectrum of that expertise all in one room, right down to patient advocacy organizations that are helping us empower patients to get involved in researching rare diseases.

The focus was not just listening to lecture after lecture, but to engage in open discussion about emerging topics and approaches. In these settings, the questions are often just as informative as the talks.

For the first time, this year the Think Tank also provided the opportunity for early-career scientists such as myself to present abstracts and posters. There is nothing like getting real-time feedback on my own work from the leaders in my field. Throughout the conference, I also had the chance to take part in specific sessions to brainstorm ways in which the group could collaborate to move the needle forward in the research of gastroesophageal cancers. Since the meeting, practical projects that materialized from these discussions are already in the works, and all participants have the chance to get involved.

The informal conversations that happen at this kind of meeting are also a great way to spur new and creative ideas to collaborate. One of the most exciting outcomes of this experience for me personally was a research project idea that came out of such conversations, which we are now pursuing with new colleagues through cross-institutional collaboration.

Experiences such as this Think Tank help inspire early career investigators like me to find collaborative ways to push our research forward and strive to make an impact, big or small. I can’t thank the TargetCancer Foundation enough for letting me be a part of it.

Dr. Monika Laszkowska is a physician scientist with a passion for advancing the care of patients with stomach cancer through research in the epidemiology, prevention, and management of this disease. She is currently a third-year gastroenterology fellow at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Irving Medical Center.