Even the most positive of people can have a hard time using the words "hope" and "cancer" in the same sentence. Even with early detection, the diagnosis can be devastating, psyche-shattering. It could be easy for some to remain strong. It's not as easy to remain unfailingly hopeful. "There is hope," said Isaac Kinde. "There should be a lot of hope." Kinde is talking about cancer research, especially the type of research he has been conducting as an M.D.-Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. It's very early in their work, but Kinde and his fellow researchers at the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics in the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins are excited about their findings. Kinde is developing ways to improve the accuracy of DNA sequencing to detect various types of cancers -- colon, pancreatic, ovarian -- early and effectively. His lab's new sequencing technology is allowing them to distinguish real cancer mutations in blood samples from other mutations. His work and his lab's work have been published in journals such as Science Translational Medicine, Nature and PloS ONE. "The technique is generalizable to any cancer," said Kinde, a native of San Bernardino, Calif., who now lives in Mount Vernon. "And we are confident we can apply it to different types of cancer." For example, Kinde's lab is using the technique to detect not just cervical cancers from pap smears, but using the same pap smear to uncover ovarian and endometrial cancers, even colon cancer. "It's a very promising route to impacting the life of patients," he said. Kinde always knew science was for him. When he entered UMBC as part of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, his original intention was to go to medical school, but as soon as he started to dive into research -- at UMBC it was trying to find a new class of HIV inhibitors -- he realized lab work was just as rewarding. "It's pursuing a question that nobody else knows," he said. "You're literally at the forefront of biomedical knowledge. That was inherently attractive to me, the overall precision of science. You ask a question and you get an answer to the question." He flirted with returning home to California to pursue his M.D., but felt "connected" to the Baltimore area. Hopkins' M.D.-Ph.D. program includes two years of medical school, though Kinde is now in his sixth year in a lab. In August, Kinde will return to medical school to finish up, but he could have left the lab a few years ago. He has long completed enough work for a Ph.D. "Although it's difficult, it's incredibly rewarding, working on problems that I think are very important," he said. Kinde said he'll most likely transition into a medicine specialty that will allow him to do research as well, "research on the side," as he put it. Thank God for that future side project.
Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun