In 2020, Lee joined the faculty at Fred Hutch to continue his work. What he didn’t know at the time was the experiences from earlier in his career would be put to the test as he officially started up his lab in January, two months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I learned to be patient and resilient, and I leaned on my past experiences,” Lee said of his first few months at Fred Hutch where the insights gained from his mentors continued to arise as he dealt with new challenges.
Even though his lab was slow to start up because of COVID-19, Lee hopes to be a good leader for his team and to pass along everything he has learned to the young researchers he now mentors.
The stereotype of a scientist working in isolation doesn’t fit for Lee, who believes that a strong team that is dedicated to working together makes so much more possible.
And together, Lee and his team can be part of the larger scientific community that is using all their combined knowledge and skills to find new solutions for people facing cancer — people who have no time to waste as they face a deadly threat.
“We all know someone or have known someone who has cancer,” Lee said. “There are many people suffering from leukemia, and this is something I can help with.”
“I’m no longer working by myself; my lab is growing and it's inspiring to see my mentees growing and becoming better scientists.”
His research focuses on hematopoiesis, the process of blood cell creation and the basic regulatory processes of stem cells.
By understanding the fundamental nature of blood cell creation, Lee’s research can focus on how mutations arise. Hematologic malignancies, or cancers of the blood, are the result of these mutations. Through studying both the normal and abnormal, he can help us better understand how cancers will progress and respond to treatment.
With the advent of new technologies, Lee is studying the blood system at even higher resolutions. He believes that so much is unknown because it is hidden on the cellular level, which means technology and computational tools like AI and data analytics are key to new knowledge.
“Bone marrow transplantation is one of the most important innovations in our research, but in reality, a lot of patients don’t qualify for a bone marrow transplant which means they rely on other therapies and treatment options,” Lee said.
Bone marrow transplantation is a standard treatment for advanced cancers of the blood that was pioneered by Fred Hutch researchers. Lee hopes that the work his lab is doing can eventually lead to better therapies as well as combinations of therapies.
Lee believes that mentorship is key to making that happen. By strengthening his team, together they can pave the way for improved treatment of blood cancers.
“I’m no longer working by myself; my lab is growing and it's inspiring to see my mentees growing and becoming better scientists.” Lee said, “Without them the research direction wouldn’t be as advanced as it’s become. We’re working hard.”
— By Kat Wynn, May 27, 2022