Featured Researchers

William Grady, physician and cancer geneticist

Linking lab research to patient care

Ask physician-researcher William Grady about the link between medical research and patient treatment and he’ll tell you about the new drug therapy that saved his mother’s life.

In 1994, Grady’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Doctors prescribed a newly approved treatment that combined two chemotherapies: Taxol and Carboplatin. The treatment worked and has allowed Grady’s mother to live a long and healthy life.

“She had about a two out of 10 chance of surviving it, but she did and I think the main reason was because of those two drugs,” said Grady of research that moves treatments forward for patients. “I remember thinking: This really does make a difference.”

Grady is a medical doctor and molecular biologist specializing in gastrointestinal cancer. He joined Fred Hutch’s Clinical Research and Public Health Sciences divisions in 2004. Grady also treats patients through the University of Washington, where he is the section Chief of the Gastroenterology Division, and as medical director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program clinic, which monitors patients who are at high risk of developing such cancers.

It’s the balance between long-term progress in the lab and immediate rewards of treating patients every day that keeps Grady motivated to search for new cancer detection and treatment methods .One day he hopes to see those research breakthroughs put to use in the clinic. “That’s been one of the things that has really driven me in terms of my research is this idea that we can take discoveries in the laboratory and translate them. Our ability in the modern era continues to get better and better.”

A Michigan native, Grady may be mistaken in the local medical community for his twin brother, Richard, who is a pediatric urologist at Seattle Children’s.

Grady and his lab team are using molecular and cellular biology to identify ways to prevent, identify and treat colon cancer. Grady has identified a panel of genes that could be used for the early detection of colon polyps or colon cancer.  These “biomarker” genes can be detected in blood, stool or even urine. He is also examining other genes that may predict how tumors will respond to different types of treatment. In a related project, Grady is working with a powerful gene known as Sleeping Beauty that may help scientists identify what genes play a role in cancer formation. Grady is also helping to search for biomarkers that could be used to detect Barrett’s Esophagus, a condition that can lead to esophageal cancer.

While Grady’s background in patient care influences his approach in the lab, he also credits several researchers who trained him during his career for helping shape his philosophies. Grady takes the role of a mentor-researcher to heart as he works with young “homegrown” and international talent alike. The process reminds him of something one of his mentors once said years ago:

“Science is a team sport, and that is how you are going to be successful.”

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