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URMC / Clinical & Translational Science Institute / Stories / March 2017 / Q & A with Former KL2 Scholar Wakenda Tyler: Balancing Orthopaedic Surgery and Rare Cancer Research

Q & A with Former KL2 Scholar Wakenda Tyler: Balancing Orthopaedic Surgery and Rare Cancer Research

Wakenda Tyler, M.D., M.P.H.I recently sat down with Wakenda Tyler, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Orthopaedics and 2010 recipient of a CTSI KL2 Career Development Award, to discuss how the KL2 award affected her research and to see what she’s working on now.

Q: How did the CTSI KL2 Career Development Award impact your research?

A: It was really important funding because it was the first point in my career where I had enough support to dedicate significant time to research. As an orthopaedic surgeon, it's hard to carve out that time. Being funded by the KL2 let people in my department know that I needed to have protected time for research.

Q: What made you want to pursue a research career on top of being an orthopaedic surgeon?

A: I love the clinical side of things, but I also really enjoy being able to participate in the growth and development of the field. If all clinicians only did clinical practice, the field would never really change. We would continue doing the same clinical things - some of which are working, some of which are failing. I think that research is important to driving the field forward in an intellectual way.

Q: Can you give a quick summary of your KL2 project proposal?

A: The KL2 project investigated how renal cell carcinoma, a rare type of kidney cancer, spreads to bone. There's something about bone that makes renal cell carcinoma unresponsive to treatments – even as this cancer responds to chemotherapy in other areas of the body. Because renal cell tumors also contain many blood vessels that help them grow and thrive, I hypothesized that the mechanism behind blood vessel growth might also be responsible for helping this cancer spread to bone.  I was specifically interested in the role of angiopoietin-2, a protein that is important for blood vessel growth that was also implicated in tumor vascularization. 

Q: What was the outcome of that project?

A: We found that angiopoietin-2 is involved in the spread of renal cell carcinoma to bone, but is not absolutely necessary for it.  Renal cell carcinoma is a really smart cancer, if you block angiopoietin-2, it finds ways around it. That was a little unfortunate, but it spring-boarded some other research that we are working on.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We've shifted gears away from angiopoietin-2 and are trying to look a little deeper at other pro-vascular proteins in renal cell cancer. We're looking at something called IMP3, a protein whose presence seems to have a strong correlation with metastatic renal cell cancer and poor patient outcomes. We're studying whether IMP3 can be manipulated to prevent the renal cell cancer from being so aggressive once it hits the bone.

Q: What is the ultimate goal of your research?

A: Because renal cell carcinoma is a very vascular tumor, surgery is very difficult. Our only option right now is to take half of a patient’s arm or leg bone out for instance, just to free them of cancer. So, patients may live a long time, but with severe, debilitating pain as a result of the bone disease.

Ultimately, my goal is to be able to shrink tumors in bone - or at least prevent further growth of the cancers once they get to bone. I’d like patients who have this type of renal cell cancer to live a longer life in less pain and with less dysfunction - that would be ideal.


The project described in this article was supported by the University of Rochester CTSA award number KL2 TR000095 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The KL2 Mentored Career Development program provides 2 years of support for new investigators interested in a career in clinical or translational research. The program is designed to support the career development of those who wish to pursue research careers in multidisciplinary clinical and translational science.

Read more about the KL2 program, and check out a list of our current and past scholars.

Michael Hazard | 3/17/2017

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