Urologic Oncology Fellowship: Research Experience

Research fellowships are available for one to two years for qualified urologists (and related specialists) seeking a productive research experience as the basis for a career in academic urologic oncology.

A National Cancer Institute–designated comprehensive cancer center since 1973, Memorial Sloan Kettering provides a superb environment for the training of clinician-scientists with many unique resources, including (1) a high volume of patients with all types and stages of urologic malignancies; (2) large clinical databases with long-term clinical follow-up; (3) large-scale fresh tumor tissue banks with patient blood samples; (4) high-caliber basic and translational scientific research programs; and (5) a rich academic environment and culture strongly supportive of basic research, translational research, and clinical trial design.

Under the guidance of a research mentor, the research experience is tailored to accommodate the research interests and career goals of the fellow. A wide range of research opportunities are available to fellows, including clinical trials testing the safety and efficacy of new treatments, translational research bridging discoveries made in the laboratory and the clinic, mathematical and computational research focused on analyzing and interpreting biomedical data, and health outcomes research.

Under the guidance of their mentor, fellows are expected to present the results of their research at national meetings and to publish their findings in the literature. Fellows also work closely with their research mentors to prepare competitive grant applications. Former fellows have been awarded competitive extramural research funding from the American Cancer Society, the American Urological Association, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Specific Research Opportunities

In addition to the faculty of the Urology Service, research mentors are chosen from other departments with research programs that emphasize or lend themselves to translational research in urologic oncology.

Biostatistics/Epidemiology/Outcomes

Andrew Vickers is a research methodologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Dr. Vickers’s research interests include randomized trials, surgical outcomes research, and molecular marker studies. A particular focus of his work is the detection and initial treatment of prostate cancer. Dr. Vickers has analyzed the learning curve for radical prostatectomy and is working on a series of studies demonstrating that a single measure of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) taken in middle age can predict prostate cancer up to 25 years subsequently. He is also researching methods for integrating randomized trials into routine surgical practice to compare different surgical approaches. Dr. Vickers’s methodologic research centers primarily on novel methods for assessing the clinical value of predictive tools. He has developed decision-analytic tools that can be directly applied to a data set, without the need for gathering data on patient preferences or utilities. Dr. Vickers is co-director of the Biostatistics Core of the Memorial Sloan Kettering SPORE in Prostate Cancer, which provides statistical analysis, consultancy, and ongoing quality assurance to all SPORE in Prostate Cancer investigators. He is also course leader of the biostatistics seminar series at MSKCC.

Elena Elkin is an outcomes research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Dr. Elkin’s primary research interest is evaluating the determinants of cancer screening, treatment, and outcomes using population-based observational data analysis, decision analysis, and patient surveys. She has more than ten years of experience using the population-based SEER-Medicare data set and is currently a collaborator or mentor on studies of treatment patterns, complications, survival, and costs in urologic cancers, gastrointestinal cancers, and head and neck cancers using this data set. Her other research interests include studying the economic impact of cancer treatment on patients, their families, and the healthcare system; the effects of economic incentives and barriers to care on variations in cancer treatment; and understanding and improving the clinical decision-making processes from both patient and provider perspectives. In addition to several SEER-Medicare projects with urology fellows, she is currently working with urology faculty and fellows to collect information about health service use and out-of-pocket healthcare spending among men who are treated with radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer.

Helena Furberg-Barnes is a molecular epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Dr. Furberg-Barnes conducts research to identify factors associated with genitourinary cancer etiology and prognosis, as well as genetic factors associated with smoking behavior. She has led the two largest genetic investigations of smoking behavior among individuals of European and African ancestry, both of which identified a region on chromosome 15 significantly associated with how much a person smokes per day. She is Co-Principal Investigator of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Urothelial Cancer Registry and an active member of the International Consortium for Bladder Cancer, which seeks to identify new genetic loci associated with bladder cancer etiology and prognosis. Together with clinical colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering and Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Furberg-Barnes investigates the impact of smoking on bladder cancer prognosis and the accuracy of self-reported smoking among bladder cancer patients. She also collaborates with colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering to evaluate how risk factors for renal cell carcinoma perform as prognostic factors and whether they are associated with specific mutational profiles of prognostic significance utilizing data from The Cancer Genome Atlas.

Erectile Dysfunction

John P. Mulhall is Director of the Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program, which is devoted entirely to the care of men who have suffered sexual difficulties or fertility problems as a result of their cancer or cancer treatment, including radical pelvic surgery or radiation. This program is designed to minimize the negative impact these treatments have on a man’s long-term sexual function. Dr. Mulhall’s laboratory research currently focuses on two areas: (1) the cellular mechanisms involved in the development of Peyronie’s disease and the means of modifying their behavior; and (2) reducing erectile dysfunction after radical pelvic surgery, particularly with the use of novel drugs to protect erectile tissue and promote regeneration of the nerves that facilitate erections. Among his clinical research interests are evaluating new treatments for Peyronie’s disease, exploring the link between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease, and developing clinical trials of novel ways to preserve erectile tissue after radical prostatectomy.

Genetics & Genomics

Kenneth Offit is Chief of the Clinical Genetics Service in the Department of Medicine. Dr. Offit’s research focuses on defining genetic factors that cause an increased susceptibility to cancer. His laboratory serves as the translational research arm of the Clinical Genetics Service, and he also collaborates closely with colleagues in the Cancer Biology and Genetics Program of the Sloan Kettering Institute. Research in the laboratory focuses on three areas: discovery and characterization of novel cancer predisposing genes in humans, including both common and rare variants; studies to describe phenotype, penetrance, modifying effect, and clinical outcomes associated with germline genetic alterations in cancer patients and their families; and interpretation and clinical translation of results of massively parallel sequencing of germline genomes in cancer-prone kindreds. Dr. Offit’s research team identified the most common mutation associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer among individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. He and his Memorial Sloan Kettering colleagues published the first prospective series describing the outcome of preventive ovarian surgery and screening in women at hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer. His ongoing research is aimed at defining new genetic risk factors and tailored interventions for families at hereditary risk for cancers of the breast, ovary, colon, prostate, and lymphoid organs.

Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program

James Hsieh is a medical oncologist on the Genitourinary Oncology Service in the Department of Medicine. Dr. Hsieh’s laboratory is part of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program. His research aims to decode the molecular blueprint of cancer and develop novel cancer therapeutics with an emphasis on kidney cancers. The Hsieh laboratory discovered Taspase1, a protease that plays a critical role in cancer initiation and maintenance. Dr. Hsieh is building a program of translational kidney research to decipher the molecular basis of metastasis and treatment response in hopes of developing personalized treatments for patients with kidney cancer.

David Solit is a medical oncologist on the Genitourinary Oncology Service in the Department of Medicine, and his R01-funded laboratory is part of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program. Dr. Solit’s research interest is in developing therapies that target pathways associated with cancer initiation and progression, with a particular focus on cancers that are dependent upon alterations in tyrosine kinase and steroid receptor signaling. His laboratory has demonstrated that tumors with BRAF mutations are selectively sensitive to MEK inhibition, as compared to tumors in which the pathway is activated by either RAS mutation or mutation/amplification of upstream receptor tyrosine kinases.

Yu Chen is a medical oncologist on the Genitourinary Oncology Service in the Department of Medicine and is part of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program. Dr Chen’s research interests involve the study of genetic events promoting prostate cancer progression and the development of novel techniques to culture prostate cancer cells derived from patient specimens.

Immunology/Gene Therapy

Michel Sadelain is Director of the Center for Cell Engineering, which he founded in 2007 to bring together researchers who are investigating stem cell engineering, immune cell engineering, cell delivery and bone marrow transplantation, the transfer and regulation of genes in human cells, and gene repair. Dr. Sadelain’s expertise lies in gene transfer and genetic therapies, as well as in immunotherapies. His research currently focuses on two major areas. One is immune engineering — with a focus on T lymphocytes, dendritic cells, natural killer cells, and artificial antigen-presenting cells — to stimulate the body’s immune response to cancer, while reducing the risk of the immune cells attacking normal tissues. The other area of interest is human stem cell research, with a dual focus on hematologic and neurologic disorders.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Vincent P. Laudone, Karim A. Touijer, and Jonathan Coleman supervise research in minimally invasive surgery. State-of-the-art facilities include a live animal vivarium and allow for the critical evaluation of current robotic, laparoscopic, and image-guided therapeutics as they apply to surgical outcome. Clinical research protocols in minimally invasive procedures explore the range of techniques applicable for the diagnosis and treatment of all urologic cancers, including cryoablation for renal tumors and MRI-directed prostate biopsy, initiated with our colleagues in diagnostic and interventional radiology. Interested fellows will play a role in the critical steps of trial design and implementation, as well as in the performance of percutaneous image-guided procedures. Outcomes research is also an important component in understanding the appropriate application of minimally invasive techniques and is a major effort in our program.

Vincent P. Laudone is Co-Director for Robotic Surgery in the Department of Surgery, where he specializes in minimally invasive surgical techniques for the treatment of urologic cancers. Dr. Laudone’s research focuses on the application of novel surgical technologies and the development of optimal treatment strategies that can be tailored to each patient. He is leading a prospective, randomized trial comparing robotic and open radical cystectomy, as well as conducting an evaluation of molecular forms of PSA and human kallikrein 2 in patients who experience biochemical recurrence after prostate surgery.

Jonathan A. Coleman is a urologic surgeon in the Department of Surgery specializing in image-guided and minimally invasive surgical approaches to the management of urologic malignancies of the upper urinary tract and prostate. Dr. Coleman’s research focus is on evaluating treatments and techniques central to the surgical care of patients with urologic cancers. He is investigating the unique mechanisms of a novel light-activated phototherapeutic agent, WST-11, with the goal of developing this form of therapy for the treatment of locally and regionally advanced malignancy. Dr. Coleman is also leading a phase II study of neoadjuvant chemotherapy for high-risk transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis and ureter and a phase III trial evaluating the role of mannitol in the mitigation of nephron damage from renal ischemia during kidney surgery.

Karim A. Touijer is a urologic surgeon in the Department of Surgery with expertise in the use of advanced laparoscopic/robotic surgical techniques to treat patients with genitourinary cancers (prostate, kidney, bladder, testis, and adrenal cancers). He teaches advanced laparoscopic urologic oncology at the European Association of Urology, the American Urological Association Annual Meetings, and the European Institute of Telemedicine. Dr Touijer’s research focuses on the development of innovative minimally invasive techniques, such as laparoscopy, robotic-assisted surgery, and image-guided interventions; the comparison of minimally invasive surgery to conventional open surgery with regards to cancer control and impact on the quality of life; and the implementation of metrics to objectively measure and assess surgical performance. His laboratory research focuses on studying lymph node metastases for genitourinary malignancies using cancer-targeted nanoprobes.

Pathology

Victor Reuter is Vice Chair of the Department of Pathology, Director of the Immunohistochemistry Core Facility, and Director of the SPORE in Prostate Cancer Biorepository. Dr. Reuter’s research interests focus on the evaluation of new prognostic markers, particularly the pathologic, genetic, and immunohistochemical features of genitourinary tumors that may determine prognosis and predict response to treatment. Fellows working in Dr. Reuter’s laboratory focus on clinical pathological correlations using detailed histologic and immunohistochemical analysis of surgical specimens.

Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Andrew J. Roth is a board-certified psychiatrist with expertise in the psychological and psychiatric problems of patients with prostate cancer and other genitourinary diseases. Dr. Roth provides individual and couples interventions to patients and their families, as well as care for patients through the Geriatric Counseling Program, Bereavement Services, and Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program. He is the psychiatric liaison to the Genitourinary Cancer Disease Management Team and the Geriatrics Service. Dr. Roth is affiliated with the psychotherapy laboratory, which conducts and examines clinical trials to identify aspects of therapy that prove therapeutic to patients. His research interests have included studying fatigue related to prostate cancer and the development of geriatric-specific psychotherapy.

Radiology/Imaging

Hedvig Hricak is Chair of the Department of Radiology. She supervises a broad program of basic and clinical research in imaging urologic cancer, including prostate imaging using MRI and MR spectroscopy (MRS). Clinical studies investigate the use of MRI for staging prostate cancer and for identifying features associated with increased perioperative morbidity. Expanding areas of research include molecular imaging, optical imaging, and the role of MRI and MRS in bladder imaging.  

Oguz Akin is Director of Genitourinary Radiology and Director of Body MRI in the Department of Radiology. Dr. Akin’s research interests are focused on the use of MRI in diagnosing and staging prostate, renal, and gynecologic cancers, including novel functional MRI methods that provide information about tumor biology and metabolism, such as MR spectroscopy, dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI, and diffusion-weighted MRI. He is investigating the best use of these imaging methods in predicting and monitoring treatment response and assessing emerging cancer therapies.

Hebert Alberto Vargas is a diagnostic radiologist in the Department of Radiology with a particular interest in imaging of patients with cancers involving the urinary system (e.g., prostate, bladder, and kidneys) and the female reproductive organs (e.g., uterus and ovaries). Dr. Vargas’s research activities are centered on the use of advanced imaging modalities, such as diffusion-weighted and dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI, and novel PET tracers for the noninvasive diagnosis, staging, assessment of treatment response assessment, and follow-up of patients with cancer.

Tumor Markers

Hans Lilja is a member of the Departments of Clinical Laboratories, Surgery, and Medicine. Dr. Lilja discovered free prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and other prostate-related proteins. He is primarily interested in circulating tumor markers that predict the development and progression of prostate cancer, as well as in the possibility that these markers play a key role in the pathogenesis of prostate cancer. Dr. Lilja continues his research in using prostatic kallikreins to detect prostate cancer, particularly in the early identification of men at high risk of developing the disease. Dr. Lilja and his team are using their findings to develop early risk-group stratification, discriminate clinically significant from insignificant prostate cancer, identify aggressive disease, and monitor therapeutic efficacy.

Bernard H. Bochner is Vice Chair of Surgical Services and Co-Director of Pelvic Reconstructive Surgery in the Department of Surgery, as well as coordinator of the bladder cancer multidisciplinary working group. Dr. Bochner conducts clinical and translational research in bladder cancer, focusing on developing prognostic tools and improving surgical outcomes for patients with bladder cancer. He was Director of the International Bladder Cancer Nomogram Consortium, which developed a prognostic outcomes nomogram to predict five-year risk of recurrence following radical cystectomy for bladder cancer. Currently, Dr. Bochner is conducting a prospective study of quality of life in bladder cancer patients undergoing radical cystectomy, and is involved in ongoing studies to determine which features of a tumor predict for more or less aggressive behavior, which would help individualize treatment based on a patient’s tumor characteristics. He is also collaborating on a study investigating the influence of smoking status on the prognosis of bladder cancer.