Featured MassKicker

Dean Ho PhD

There is a global community of fellow patients, advocates, researchers, and others that form a team that will take on cancer together. Nobody is alone in the fight to fully understand, treat, and someday eliminate cancer.

Dean Ho is one of the first researchers on the mAss Kickers Foundation Board of Directors.  Dr. Dean Ho received his Ph.D. degree from UCLA.  He moved to Chicago and joined the faculty of Northwestern University in 2006 and received tenure in 2010. He moved back to UCLA as a Full Professor in the Division of Oral Biology and Medicine and Co-Director of the Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology at the Center for Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer and UCLA School of Dentistry. He is also a Professor of Bioengineering, a Member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and California NanoSystems Institute.  Dr. Ho is one of the pioneers in the use of nanodiamonds as drug delivery agents, and has developed multiple approaches towards improved therapeutic efficiency.  Dr. Ho is currently the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening. He was featured in the National Geographic Channel’s “Known Universe” program that aired domestically and internationally. His research achievements have been featured on CNN, NPR, Chicago Tribune, and hundreds of international news outlets. Dr. Ho is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, Wallace H. Coulter Foundation Translational Research Award, V Foundation for Cancer Research V Scholar Award, John G. Bollinger Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, IADR Young Investigator Award, and was named a Distinguished Young Alumnus of the UCLA School of Engineering. Dr. Ho was also named the inaugural SLAS Endowed Fellow. Dr. Ho is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Laboratory Automation and will serve as Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board in 2015.  We were very fortunate to catch up with him and ask him a few questions.

mK:  Thanks for doing this Dr. Ho!  First off, welcome to the mAss Kickers Family!  What is your relationship to tumors/cancer?
DH: I direct a research team focused on the development of nanodiamond particles for the delivery of a broad range of chemotherapeutics for the treatment of brain, breast, liver, blood and a broad range of other cancers. Our preclinical studies have demonstrated remarkable reductions in tumor size while remaining biocompatible and well tolerated with a low toxicity profile. We have also developed a nanodiamond-based contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging which has displayed marked enhancements over current clinical as well as nanoparticle agents. Our goal here is to give patients a one order of magnitude less dosage of the imaging agent while getting the same level of imaging efficiency out which would mean a much safer approach in the clinic.

Non science related: I have family and friends who are living with cancer and the same can be said for the members of my research team. This and many other factors motivate us to do what we do.

mK:  Why is research so important?
DH: Research allows us to explore untapped areas of medicine and engineering that may dramatically improve the way that cancer diagnosis and imaging are carried out. The cancer research community as well as other communities exploring ways to diagnose and treat other devastating illnesses are making progress, but we’re not done yet. The level of innovation that is already occurring and on the horizon means that approaching these uncertainties with a multi-disciplinary effort will result in major advancements in medicine. My team focuses on nanodiamond-based drug delivery and imaging. We’re taking what is essentially a byproduct of mining and refining processes and turning it into a powerful platform for cancer imaging and therapy. Our results have shown that by tagging a commonly used but toxic cancer drug with nanodiamond particles, the drug can markedly reduce tumor sizes while maintaining proper levels of drug tolerance during treatment.

mK: There is GREAT potential for nanodiamonds!  More efficient drug delivery!  What motivates you?
DH:  During my career, I’ve met and worked with a community of engineers, scientists, clinicians, patients, and foundation leadership that have all played critical roles in the fight against the major diseases of our generation. What motives me is that every step forward means a real chance for patients to benefit directly from new technologies and therapeutic approaches that could improve their treatment outcomes.

mK: Who are your heroes?
DH: The patients, including loved ones and friends and colleagues who are living with and battling cancer are the true heroes. They take courage and bravery to a whole new level. My parents have been role models of mine during my whole life. Whether it’s been public speaking training from my mom or learning the ins and outs of academia from my father, I owe a lot of who I am today to them. Another group of people to whom I owe so much is the Northwestern University School of Engineering and Applied Science family. I started my career there and I couldn’t have asked for a better team of colleagues. I still collaborate with many faculty there and they are the very best at what they do.

mK: Let’s get to know Dr. Ho… What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
DH:  My kids probably make me both laugh and cry. Laugh when I think about all of the funny expressions that they make and cry when I think about the day that each was born. What makes me angry is when I think about the decline in research funding and comments I’ve heard using uncertainty as a reason to justify reductions in research effort.

mK:  You are doing some pretty cool stuff in the lab, but what would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
DH: This is probably not that interesting to many people, but the most interesting thing I’ve done was to move outside of California to begin my career at Northwestern. I was born and raised in Southern California and I never thought that I would leave. Ever. Especially for a place that has very different weather conditions. It ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made and not only did I work with the best of the best at Northwestern, I also made several lifelong friends while I was there.

mK:  Based on what you’ve observed, what is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
DH: Survivors have already been through so much, from the diagnosis through treatment/recovery, and other events. I think that it’s a series of challenges that collectively make cancer a disease that needs to be erased.

mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
DH: Pizza. I’ve never had a Pizza I didn’t like.

mK:  HAHAHA!  Another strange question for you… What would you do if you found out you had 24 hours to live?
DH: I would go to Disneyland with my parents, my wife, and my kids. I’m usually constantly in front of the computer jotting down new ideas or preparing presentations, or sitting in on meetings either in person or over the phone. If I’m not doing any of these things I am probably constantly thinking about new ideas or anything work-related. Disneyland is one of the few places that allows my brain to relax and I’ve always viewed it as a beacon for imagination and innovation and a place where I can be appreciate how amazed my kids are by their surroundings.

mK: Glad to hear the acknowledgement of family!  They play a very large role in post treatment life!  We all need to take a step back once in a while and relax.  What are you up to now?
DH: At the moment I’m working with a team of investigators looking at novel engineering platforms to simultaneously improve the safety and efficacy of chemotherapy. We’re hoping to implement these technologies in the clinic in the very near future.

mK: Cool!  Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
DH: There is a global community of fellow patients, advocates, researchers, and others that form a team that will take on cancer together. Nobody is alone in the fight to fully understand, treat, and someday eliminate cancer.

mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
DH: I will never turn down a workout. It’s something that I do virtually every day. I travel quite a bit and I find that hitting the gym immediately upon arriving at my destination or returning home is a great way to beat jet lag. I’ll conduct meetings or have progress report discussions during workouts in the gym as well.

mK: HAHAHA!  Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
DH: It’s a privilege to be a part of the mAss Kickers family. Thanks to everyone for their involvement with this wonderful organization and I love seeing all of the support and enthusiasm behind mAss Kickers. I look forward to helping out in any way that I can!

Dean Ho:  work-out-aholic, pizza lover, Disney “mouseketeer” wanna-be, young father, nanodiamond research pioneer, driven mAss Kicker, and all around cool guy!  Thanks spending time with us Dr. Ho.  We think that the use of nanodimonds as a drug delivery agent has A LOT of potential in the fight against ALL FORMS OF TUMORS/CANCER!  By the way, the mohawk/faux hawk makes you the coolest researcher we’ve met… j/k Check out the Bioengineering Dept at UCLA.  Keep an eye on Dr. Dean Ho.  He will continue to do great things!

  • https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tumors-Suck/145877928814836