Fresh Faces, New Energy: Rachael Turner, M.D., PH.D.

Oct. 1, 2020

An assistant professor of Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Rachael Turner, M.D., Ph.D., has always been interested in science, but the loss of her grandmother and great- grandmother to uterine cancer made it personal. Her mother is also a long-time breast cancer survivor, and Turner comes from a large family with four siblings (including three sisters) and 50 first cousins in western New York.

Rachael Turner, M.D., Ph.D.

Very early in her training, she volunteered at a hospice home. “What struck me the most,” Turner says, “was that people would give anything to have more time with their families.” The Niagara County native decided to pursue a grueling M.D./Ph.D. program at the University at Buffalo to explore all sides of medicine. Having dual degrees taught her to care for patients while simultaneously researching how to stop their cancer. She conducts clinical trials as well.

These days, Turner is working hard to give patients that additional time. Her specialty is gynecological malignancies, such as ovarian cancer, and thanks to research, the once-lethal disease can, in many cases, look more like a chronic illness.

As a Wilmot Cancer Institute fellow, Turner studied in a lab that pioneered the discovery of an ovarian cancer biomarker, HE4, which allows doctors to design more precise treatments. HE4 also suppresses the immune system, and now, Turner is investigating the gene’s role in cancer initiation, how it interacts with the surrounding environment, and its impact on immunotherapy. The goal is to find a way to block HE4 with a targeted drug, and she is optimistic on many fronts. “Things are changing at the speed of light,” Turner says. “I feel like every time I open my email, there’s a new approval for a gynecological cancer treatment.”