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Dr Sampurna Chatterjee: The woman behind revolutionary biomarker research that enables deep study on cancer patients

By Guardian Nigeria
05 January 2023   |   12:03 am
In recent years, researchers and clinicians have been able to use biomarkers to identify, detect, monitor, and even predict diseases before it progresses. By measuring specific substances in the body, biomarkers can provide invaluable information about an individual’s overall health, which helps guide treatment decisions and improve health outcomes. Unfortunately, reliable and accurate biomarkers available…

Dr. Sampurna Chatterjee (in the middle, in a red dress) with her colleagues at the Extraordinary Women Advancing Healthcare (EWAH) Award Gala in Boston.

In recent years, researchers and clinicians have been able to use biomarkers to identify, detect, monitor, and even predict diseases before it progresses. By measuring specific substances in the body, biomarkers can provide invaluable information about an individual’s overall health, which helps guide treatment decisions and improve health outcomes.

Unfortunately, reliable and accurate biomarkers available to medical professionals can be scarce. This is due to the complexity of biological systems and the difficulty in identifying and validating suitable biomarkers. Without reliable biomarkers, doctors and researchers must rely on subjective measures and traditional diagnostic methods, such as imaging, biopsies, and blood tests, which can be costly, time-consuming, and often unreliable. It can also lead to misdiagnosis, delayed treatments, and the inability to accurately track the disease’s progression.

Dr. Sampurna Chatterjee, currently a clinical biomarker lead at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, stepped up to address the situation. As a clinical-translational scientist, she focuses on advancing novel findings in the lab to groundbreaking treatments for cancer in the clinic; rapidly and with precision. She innovated breakthrough biomarkers that helped find cures for difficult-to-treat cancers. With her numerous publications, citations, interviews, and awards, Dr. Chatterjee has been highly regarded as an outstanding disease and healthcare research scientist in the US and worldwide.

The Biomarkers Of Lung Cancer Therapy

Dr. Chatterjee discovered a novel biomarker to screen lung cancer patients who respond positively to specific therapies at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. This is vital, as targeted therapy is only beneficial if doctors know which patients are likely to respond to such treatment. Therefore, according to Dr. Chatterjee, it is crucial to predetermine which patient will benefit from the process instead of throwing money, effort, and precious time out the door for what can be an ineffective treatment for the patients.

“I discovered that a certain group of advanced lung cancer patients had abnormally high levels of blood supply (blood vessels) in the lung tumor compared to others. Those patients could benefit from a combined treatment if the tumors were cut off from the blood supply, starving the tumors and then killing the weakened cancer cells.

A few years later, she and her team at Takeda in Boston also found out that the tumor DNA shed in the blood (circulating DNA) can predict a patient’s response to therapy. Dr. Chatterjee elaborates, “This is exciting news to the medical community since it provides evidence in support of using circulating DNA from blood draw as a biomarker of response in lieu of tumor biopsy which is more invasive and not feasible to perform repeatedly in patients.”

New drugs for lung cancer treatment can be predefined, limited by patient selection, and are usually very expensive. Her remarkable work led medical professionals to better understand what they’re dealing with and has helped patients receive precise therapies while preventing exploding costs.

Revolutionary Research Model For Brain Cancer in Children

One of the main challenges in accurately addressing brain cancer in children is the lack of a good model to study its behavior and progression. Dr. Chatterjee explains that without models, scientists cannot develop and test safer and more effective novels. Medical professionals will also be unable to image the tumors to study their initiation, growth, morphology, and response to therapy.

To address this critical missing link in cancer research, Dr. Chatterjee and her colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital developed a novel model as a research tool to study cancers and other diseases in the brain. This turns out to be the only existing model that recapitulates the human condition – even in children – nearly perfectly.

“This tool is cheap, easily set up, time-saving, and broadly applicable. It can be used to study any brain abnormalities such as Alzheimer’s, brain infection, or metastasis of other cancers in the brain and has been adapted by researchers all over the world,” Dr. Chatterjee explains.

Dr. Chatterjee As An Outstanding Research Scientist

Dr. Chatterjee proved her excellence in research development in many medical fields. Her versatility has contributed to a range of disease research, from developing novel therapies to preventing disease recurrence in lung cancer, colon cancer, chronic liver disease, colorectal cancer, liver metastasis, neuroblastoma, and adult and children’s brain cancer; all with debilitating consequences for the patients.

Her over a decade of experience in cancer research and the healthcare industry was also recognized by different reputable award committees, both locally and globally. Out of 150 nominees, she won the Extraordinary Women Advancing Healthcare (EWAH) award, a Massachusetts-state recognition that acknowledges ten outstanding individuals for their career achievements, as well as their contributions to fostering diversity and collaboration within their organizations and in the healthcare community.

In addition, she was a recipient of the 2022 Women of Inspiration Award, International Advocate, and Catalyst for Change, where 10 out of more than 900 nominees across 5 continents were awarded. She was recognized for her extraordinary contributions to developing novel therapies for deadly brain cancers such as glioblastoma and medulloblastoma, as well as her leadership excellence in the medical field.

Dr. Chatterjee attributes her current successes to Takeda’s trust in giving her the freedom, support, and opportunity to access resources needed to be agile and successful. She has produced scientific publications that have been cited over 800 times globally, via her affiliations at the Max Planck Society, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Takeda leading to further other scientists’ research and successful clinical trials.

Giving back to the scientific community

“I am passionate about serving and transforming society by making science open, inclusive, and accessible to create a welcoming, diverse environment where all can thrive. I am particularly devoted to sponsoring and promoting women leaders in all fields, the biomedical industry in particular,”  Dr. Chatterjee shares.

Dr. Sampurna Chatterjee is helping marginalized early-career scientists by providing them with the tools they need to expand their current talents, spot opportunities, and launch projects that will benefit and impact both their local and scientific communities meaningfully. She does so by serving as a mentor on multiple platforms and on the Board of Directors of nonprofits including but not limited to the NIH (National Institute of Health) Career Symposium, Nucleate Biotech Incubator, MGH Postdoctoral Association, Takeda Women’s Forum, and the NPA (National Postdoctoral Association).

All these accomplishments are a true testament to Dr. Chatterjee’s dedication, commitment, and global impact in the disease research field.

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