By Michelle Price
UCBJ Managing Editor
Fighting cancer with a keyboard and mouse
COOKEVILLE – Many people find data analysis tedious but not Dr. Jason Meier, M.D., Ph.D. He says it’s like looking for the bread crumb trail that cancer cells use to go to other places like the lungs and liver. His goal is to find those trails and stop the cancer in its tracks.
Meier has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry. Even before entering medical school as a Ph.D. student, he was looking at targeting a factor that is used in keeping blood cells in the bone marrow that also ends up being used by a lot of cancer cells to grow and spread outside of their native range. He was already hunting that bread crumb.
“Data and computers work together a lot more than you think,” said Meier. “A lot of the big discoveries with cancer, especially in cancers where we haven’t had a lot of success, like kidney cancer, melanoma and blood cancers like leukemia, a lot of the things that have been practice changing are based out of data analysis.”
This is where Meier’s Ph.D. studies in structure-based drug design pay off. An example of big data being used in developing targeted therapy is one of the new drugs for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The first new drug developed for AML in 30 years is based off a discovered target named FLT3. Meier studied how these new developments related to the data and learned to look for data trends leading to new targets.
“It’s remarkable what you can do when you find out what you should be looking for and that’s what big data is all about,” explained Meier.
Meier’s different approach to cancer treatment and his attention to detail is focused on improving overall patient outcomes. He’s focused on the future, but he doesn’t ignore the basics.
“Something as simple as checklists will make patient’s outcomes a lot better because there’s a lot to remember here,” said Meier. “There’s new stuff coming out every day. It’s impossible for someone to remember to do everything perfectly every time without something to remind them. That’s why I like using checklists and things like that to make sure that the patient gets everything they need and that I’m doing all the testing I’m supposed to do to make sure that the patient is trying all the possible new treatments that may offer them a benefit.”
“That’s one of the positive aspects of oncology,” added Meier. “The fact that in the last five or ten years with all the drugs that we’ve developed, that the outcomes are shifting pretty significantly. It’s a really impressive thing to see. It’s what really drew me to oncology. The fact that it can grow and change so dramatically over the span of a few decades.”
Meier grew up in Louisville, Ky. and attended college and medical school there. He did his residency in internal medicine at Indiana University before his wife, Renate, convinced him to move south where it was warmer. He did a fellowship in hematology/oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center where his wife is still a nurse practitioner.
In his spare time, Meier spends a lot of time smoking barbeque. His wife is from Texas, so he has had to work to perfect his smoked brisket and smoked beef ribs. He also enjoys building computers and taking his sons, Nicholas and Noah, fishing.