Alex Herrera knew he wanted a career that blended science and people. Job shadowing during his undergraduate years at Princeton University made it clear that medicine would work perfectly for him. That L led to him earning an MD from Harvard, with a residency in internal medicine, then a hematology-oncology fellowship. Herrera has been at City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles for the past three years, specially focused on hematology and lymphoma.
About 10 years ago, when Herrera was starting medical school, there was a boom in cancer treatment. Immunotherapy began to be used to attack cancers of all types. As he began to get more involved in cancer medicine, he realized what an exciting time it was to be in the field.
"We're learning so much about how cancer works," Herrera says. "There's an explosion of potential new treatments."
Herrera loves the research side of medicine as well as the patient care aspect, so understanding the genetics of lymphoma tumors has been a passion for him. His two areas of research these days include developing new medications for those with treatment resistant cancer. There are drugs in various phases of clinical trials, and some of that involves immune therapies.
He also studies how patients respond to different treatments.
"If you know how is likely to respond, before treating them, you can choose the best approach," he said.
By studying biomarkers within the tumors themselves, Herrera and others like him are harnessing cutting edge technology.
They sequence the gene of tumors, not just taking samples and doing tissue stains as doctors have done traditionally. And a powerful computer program can analyze things like the distance between different immune cells in a tumor. That gives the hematologist information about what treatment will work best.
One of Herrera's most exciting fields of focus is called MRD: Minimal Residual Disease. This biomarker can be used to track where a tumor can release cancer cells into the bloodstream. A blood test using MRD--cheaper than a full body scan--also can be done to find cancer cells in the body.
Herrera did his medical training in Boston, but he is enjoying his time in Los...