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A Scientist Advancing Cancer Treatment

A cure for lung cancer is still in the future. But at the Harvard lab that Magda Bahcall, Ph.D. (Czech Republic, UWC Atlantic, Wellesley ’05) directs, a team of researchers is working hard to improve patients’ chances of surviving.

“There’s been a lot of progress made in the development of specific, targeted therapies for different subtypes of lung cancer — however, the success of these drugs is almost always temporary,” explains Magda. “Most patients eventually develop resistance; essentially, the cancer cells adapt to circumvent the effects of the drug and resume dividing. So the fundamental focus of research now is to devise therapeutic strategies to prevent the onset of resistance, or at the very least delay it.”

After earning a doctorate at Columbia in pathobiology and molecular medicine, Magda joined the laboratory of Dr. Pasi Jänne at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School in Boston. She rose to be lead scientist, and then became director of the lab, where she manages its staff of about 15 researchers.

“I’ve picked up a lot of skills in this position that I did not have when I was a staff scientist,” Magda reflects. “I still very much enjoy doing science and contributing to making scientific advances, so I continue to have research projects that I work on personally. But being in a position that allows me to see the bigger picture exposes me to a wealth of ideas, then requires me to synthesize all that information, and has been very satisfying.”