In March of 2011, Dr. Roy S. Herbst ‘84 GRD ‘84, began his tenure as Chief of Medical Oncology for Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven and Associate Director for Translational Research. Prior to his work at the Yale Cancer Center, Dr. Herbst served as Chief of the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson’s Cancer Center. He is nationally renowned for his expertise on lung cancer research, and received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Yale. Dr. Herbst spoke to the News about his thoughts on the Cancer Center’s achievements and research developments in the past year.
Q: What research initiatives are currently occupying the most time, energy and funding at the Smilow Center?
A: We’re really focusing our time on personalized therapy to understand the characteristics of cancers. That means that we’re trying to analyze their DNA and mutations so we can match the right treatments to each tumor. That’s been a big personal initiative we’ve taken on in the last few years.
Q: What do you feel have been your greatest achievements since stepping into your position as chief of medical oncology?
A: Our achievements have been several fold. We’ve hired over seven new positions, all of whom are experts in their specific fields. We’ve hired experts in breast cancer, genital and urinary cancer, and phase one cancer. By hiring these new specialists, we’ve brought great leadership to the Center. We’ve also issued four internal grants to groups of individuals who are conducting critical work. We’re bringing together clinical people and laboratory people to stimulate collaborative research. And we’ve started new conferences and workshops so that we can integrate our research at Yale. We have a meeting once a month at the provost’s house where people from the chemistry department meet with the leaders at the Cancer Center to talk about our new approaches to developing drugs. We’ve done a lot to stimulate collaboration, which has been great for the Center.
Q: What critical developments in cancer research have occurred in the past year?
A: I would say that in the last year we’ve seen developments in the early detection of cancer. It’s become easier to screen someone who has smoked to detect lung cancer before the tumor develops.
Q: What is the Smilow Center doing to respond to those developments in early detection?
A: The Smilow Center developed a screening clinic for people who have smoked in the past. We do CAT scans to find early signs of cancer and treat it appropriately. We have a very vigorous program on smoking cessation. And we’ve also instituted a tumor-profiling program at Yale where, for a whole host of different cancers, we can profile the tumor, look at markers and understand what causes it to grow. We’re making progress here on all of those fronts. It’s a very exciting time to be working at the Center.