16 Year Old at ASCO Demonstrates Why Curiosity Is Our Best Weapon Against Cancer

16 Year Old at ASCO Demonstrates Why Curiosity Is Our Best Weapon Against Cancer

06.01.13 | By

There are many great tools on display at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting that are being used to better understand and attack cancer: genetic information, carefully crafted immunotherapies, antibody-drug conjugates. But the most important tool is the one often taken for granted: curiosity.

All discoveries start with a simple question, such as the one that high school sophomore Matthew Lana posed to his father, Primo Lara Jr., a medical oncologist and researcher at the University of California-Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, over dinner: “How do young people with lung cancer do?” The response from the elder Lana: “Why don’t you find out?”

So Matthew did. He checked published research, but found that answers were inconsistent. Matthew wasn’t satisfied. His question hadn’t been answered. But he was still curious, and with the help of his father and others at Davis, he began sorting through data on thousands of patients collected as part of California Cancer Registry, analyzing survival trends across a range of different factors.

This weekend, 16-year-old Matthew presented his data showing that age was linked to better outcomes in lung cancer patients, with the largest analysis of its kind ever performed. One innocent dinnertime question from a teenager to his dad has moved the state of science forward.

Matthew isn’t the only one asking questions: there are literally thousands of pieces of research on display at the meeting, each one providing an answer to a question someone was curious enough to pose. That’s the fuel that keeps all medical research going forward.

Of course, researchers know that science isn’t about asking – and answering – a single question. Every answer provides the opportunity for another question. Matthew’s not fully satisfied that he knows enough about the impact of age on lung cancer, and Matthew and Primo are already talking about looking again at the registry to see if they can tease more insight from the data. After all, he’s still curious.

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