Page: 1 2
origin, diagnosis, and treatment of nervous system malignancies, including brain tumors. At UCSF, Israel "had a pretty typical molecular genetics, cell biology, cancer medicine laboratory, and I also had a small involvement in clinical practice," he explains.
In 2001, when Israel came to Dartmouth, he brought his lab and some of its researchers with him. He made the transition from lab director to cancer center director look easy. "I don't think it was a horrible jump for him," says Nathan Watson, who has managed Israel's lab since it was at UCSF. "The schedule, I think, was just a matter of getting used to. He has incredible amounts of energy."
Energy enough to manage days filled with meetings, phone calls, and research. "Today is a pretty typical day," Israel says as he consults a piece of paper that he has pulled out of his breast pocket. "I started with a phone call down to Manchester [N.H.], where we're building a new cancer center." He next spent 45 minutes talking with the chair of medicine about recruitments; 90 minutes at a group lab meeting; an hour conferring individually with lab staff; 30 minutes at a meeting to discuss buying a new piece of imaging equipment; and 30 minutes at a meeting about establishing a new research venture focused on quality-of-life issues such as pain control.
Later, he'll meet for an hour with a DHMC vice president to talk about clinical matters. After that he'll attend two meetings regarding fund-raising, followed by a meeting related to the Medical School's upcoming site review by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. "Then I'll be in the lab for an hour, then I do my day's [paper]work," he says. He usually gets to work before 7:00 a.m. and goes home after 7:00 p.m. "Clinicians like to have early-morning meetings [that are] not disruptive to their day. And scientists like to have evening meetings. I end up meeting with clinicians early in the morning and scientists late at night. It can be a long day. But I enjoy it."
And as busy as he is with administrative duties, he is still engaged as a principal investigator (PI) in his own research. His lab works on the genetics of brain tumors, determining which cell types are likeliest to give rise to tumors and studying the regulation of tumorigenesis. Israel often stops by the lab, between meetings, to see how things are going. "He's involved in the planning, with regular meetings to
As devoted as Israel is to his research, he is even more interested in the well-being of the people who work for him. "He's as nice as people see him," says his lab manager.
detail out what the research is going to be," Watson explains. "He has a very good balance between telling you what to do and allowing you to be your own researcher. In return, he likes to be involved to the extent that somebody comes and says, 'Hey, Mark, would you come and look at this plate of cells?' He's still technical enough that you don't have to change the way you talk about experiments for him to be right on top of it. And that's very rare. A lot of PI's who are that removed, you have to lighten the talk up for them."
As devoted as Israel is to his research, he is even more interested in the well-being of the people who work for him—scientists, clinicians, and administrators. At his lab's weekly meetings, where researchers take turns presenting their work, Israel offers advice and approval and gently nudges people to ask and answer questions. At one meeting, he encourages people to visit one of their colleagues whose wife has just had a baby. He even asks Watson about it later. "He pulled me to the side this morning and said, 'How many people from our lab have gone to see them? Send them out,'" says Watson. "He's as nice as people—quote, unquote—see him as."
Yet Israel realizes that today's competitive scientific environment calls for more than mentoring. He worries that as the government cuts funding for medical research, young scientists may be at particular risk. "I think the real problem is not to lose a generation of young scientists who want to become cancer researchers but don't have the opportunity to," he says. "I see how difficult it is to establish yourself as a scientist and how high the expectations [are] for creativity, innovation, successful productivity. It's not easy to become a professional scientist, especially in an academic environment. It's competitive your entire life. And it's competitive in an international world."
So in addition to mentoring young scientists, doing research, publishing papers, and running a cancer center, Israel is engaged in regional, national, and international efforts
to expand cancer research and care. He is overseeing initiatives to bring care closer to patients by opening Norris Cotton branches in Manchester, N.H., and St. Johnsbury, Vt. He serves on a number of national committees. And his international work includes helping the University of Heidelberg establish a cancer center. "There are no comprehensive cancer centers in Germany, even though Germany is one of the real hotbeds for cancer research," he says. "Because of the historical development of their research institutes and universities, they have not had as easy an integration of the clinical medicine and disease-oriented research as has happened in the U.S."
That integration has advanced at Norris Cotton even in the four years since Israel arrived. "One thing that clearly has . . . matured significantly during the time I've been here—has been the expansion of the translational research efforts," he says. "With my coming, wet labs were built in the clinical cancer center, and new scientists—really outstanding new scientists—have been hired to populate those labs. I'd say everything the cancer center leadership does, not just me, is focused on trying to integrate these activities as a means of doing a better job of taking care of people at risk for cancer or people who have cancer."
The next step in that process, Israel says, will be an exploration, in collaboration with other researchers at Dartmouth, into nanotechnology. "How nanotechnology will actually fit into cancer is still an area of active investigation," he says. "The idea . . . is that you utilize manufactured things that are very small in order to go places and do things that larger things couldn't do. These particles can be anything from simply a homogenous particle of, let's say, iron to something very complex like an entire machine." Nanoparticles might one day, for example, circulate in the bloodstream and deliver chemotherapy directly to tumors.
In the meantime, Israel continues to deal with the day-to-day excitement and challenge of running an enterprise that is "mega" rather than "nano" in scale. Norris Cotton now has 282 physicians and scientists, 365 other staff, 276 funded research projects, 148 clinical trials, and more. Its leader feels, he says, like he's gotten "on a fast-moving wave . . . it's been a great ride."
Page: 1 2
Laura Carter is Dartmouth Medicine magazine's associate editor.
If you'd like to offer feedback about this article, we'd welcome getting your comments at DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.
This article may not be reproduced or reposted without permission. To inquire about permission, contact DartMed@Dartmouth.edu.