Dr. Elahe Mostaghel was one of those kids who knew back in elementary school that she wanted to be a doctor. The science of living things fascinated her.
But she never set out to specialize in prostate cancer. That choice, as she tells it, was more a series of circumstances.
After medical school at Duke University, Mostaghel completed her residency in San Francisco with an interest in bone-marrow transplantation and its common complication, graft-vs.-host disease-areas that happen to be the Hutchinson Center's longtime forte.
By the time she finished her first year as a Center postdoctoral fellow in 2005, working with the gravely ill had weighed on her. She was ready to explore something new. Early on, she crossed paths with two of the Center's prostate cancer investigators, Drs. Bruce Montgomery and Peter Nelson, and found their enthusiasm infectious.
Around the same time, her interest turned more personal: Her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
His treatment has since gone well, and Mostaghel's involvement in advancing new directions for prostate cancer treatments has flourished. "For my family, it has been reassuring that I have access to this field," the Hutchinson Center faculty member said during a recent interview.
For the past 70 years, the most popular method of buying time for prostate cancer patients has centered on suppressing male hormones, such as testosterone, that are known to feed tumor growth. But it's not a cure, as the cancer frequently develops a resistance to this treatment-known as androgen-deprivation or suppression therapy-and comes back in a deadlier form.
That's one of the problems that Mostaghel and her colleagues investigate, and with promising results so far.
They recently found what may be the key to developing more effective treatments: prostate tumors appear to make their own hormones, fueling their own growth. The finding suggests future therapies may need to hit directly at the tumors themselves-a departure from current regimens, which target hormones circulating throughout the body.
Even so, there's no one-size-fits-all approach for prostate cancer patients, and researchers are moving closer to tailoring treatments to an individual patient's makeup. One of Mostaghel's newest projects is an attempt to develop simple, less-invasive blood tests that can relay crucial information about hormone levels in tumor tissue, with the hope of better guiding oncologists' treatment decisions.
"That's the future," she said. "We're going to get better about our understanding of cancer therapy and how to target it."