Quest magazine

The next generation: One early-career researcher’s quest for funding

The Dottie Thomas Endowment is designed to benefit promising early-career researchers, such as Dr. Daniel Egan.

Dr. Daniel Egan

Photo by Bo Jungmayer / Fred Hutch

Dr. Daniel Egan knew that he had a challenge ahead of him when he joined the hematology and oncology fellowship program run by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, one of the top research training programs of its kind. Now in the final stretch of his 3.5-year fellowship, Egan has cleared all the hurdles standing in his way except one, and it’s a big one – finding funding to establish his research career.

Early-stage academic research has always been tough, but never more so than now, Egan said. With fewer government dollars to go around, he’s competing for both federal and private foundation support with senior researchers who have established track records and years of data to back up their ideas. That’s why Dottie’s Bridge is so essential. The endowment fund, created this year by Dottie Thomas, is designed to grow and help promising young researchers bridge the gap between the end of their National Institutes of Health-supported fellowship and their first grant award. Egan exemplifies the kind of researcher the fund will eventually benefit.

He says he’s determined to stay the course, despite obstacles with funding.

“I accepted that this was a challenging path to take from the beginning, and I did it nonetheless,” he said.

Now completing a project under the mentorship of Dr. Jerald Radich on the genes that make leukemia tick, Egan knew since before starting medical school that he wanted to end up at the laboratory bench. After college, he worked in a molecular biology lab at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a great experience which, in combination with his desire to work directly with patients, made “going into oncology a no-brainer.”

Following an impressive start to his medical career that included medical school at the University of Massachusetts, residency at New York University and a chief residency at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Egan was drawn to Fred Hutch because of its stellar reputation in blood cancer research, his particular area of interest. After a rigorous 18-month clinical training period and nearing the end of his two-year research portion of the fellowship, Egan has applied for several early career grants that would allow him to remain at the Hutch and launch an independent research program, but competition is fierce.

He hopes to spin off his fellowship work, delving further into the genetic and clinical differences that determine how patients with leukemia respond to their treatments. Understanding such differences could eventually lead to better, more precise treatments for those who fail to respond to traditional chemotherapy and radiation. But to get to that point, he, and his fellow early-stage researchers, need those elusive dollars.

“We’re excited, we want to be given the chance to succeed in research, but we’re dependent on the resources available to us,” Egan said.

Rachel Tompa is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. A native Seattleite, she joined Fred Hutch in 2009 as an editor working with infectious disease researchers and has since written about health and science topics ranging from nanotechnology to global health. She has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, San Francisco and a certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Reach her at rtompa@fhcrc.org.