Featured MassKicker

Jason Christiansen PhD

Research is immensely important because it is the way you find out where to go.

Jason Christiansen is another research focused mAss Kicker in San Diego.  Dr. Christiansen has years of experience in oncology research.  He is currently the Vice President of Diagnostics at Ignyta in San Diego.  Before Ignyta, he was the Senior Director of Assay Development at Genoptix, the Senior Director of Operations of HistoRx in New York, the AE/ Director of Scientific Applications at Protedyne in Connecticut, and Group Leader/Section Head at Molecular Staging, INC in Connecticut. He completed his Post-Doc research at Virginia Tech in 2000. He has also published numerous articles in many peer-reviewed scientific journals!  Not enough people recognize the researcher in the fight against tumors/cancer so we are excited to feature Dr. Christiansen this week.  They create the means to combat these horrible diseases!

mK: Thanks for doing this Dr. Christiansen.  We are trying to “humanize” the fight against tumors/cancer.  What is your relationship to cancer?
JC: It’s not a good one, I’ve been fighting that stupid thing for a long time. I obviously have a relationship because of what I do. But there is a personal side to it in that I’ve had friends and family members affected. Most recently, I lost my uncle after a long fight with it and my father has had his own fight (which he is winning).

mK: Why is research so important? What exactly do you do?
JC: I’m an assay developer and really, at heart, I’m a technology person. So I’ve always worked either on new technologies or tasking existing technology to make clinical assays that can be used to diagnose patients. So I’m always trying to find the new way to find more information about a cancer tumor that can potentially steer a physician to know what drug to give and help that person that tumor came from. I’d like to think it is important in some way, but in the end, with cancer, there are so many people working to make it better, it really is the immense team effort from all of the people who are doing the same or similar things.

Research is immensely important because it is the way you find out where to go. It’s like ‘the journey of a thousand miles has to start with a step’. Those first steps, maybe even the majority of the steps, are research and learning and understanding what is happening. Eventually, you get to a point where you have something that is beneficial and a contribution. And even then, you keep going and optimizing. It’s like getting in your car with a Yelp review list in your hand. First, you had to get that list, that’s the early research. But even if you’ve gone to one place, you might have your own thoughts and then try something different the next time, write review notes and go on to the next one on the list, and so on…

mK: Hahaha!  Yelp is “qualitative research” that people share publicly online… So, what motivates you?
JC: In research is seeing the germ of something that has real potential. It’s easy to then just get super passionate and dive in and start working the problem. Inevitably, it’s harder than it looks, so you keep working at it and chipping away. And when you finally see something productive come out of it, you feel such a sense of accomplishment.

mK: Accomplishments are addictive… Here is another question, who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
JC: Honestly, I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t have them, it’s just a tough question for me since it’s probably so situational. I suppose, from my early background, I was trained as a physicist, so it’s all of greats in that field that come to mind. But now, I do clinical work, who are the heroes here? I mentioned before that all of this feels like such a tremendous team effort by so many, it’s hard to really think of any one individual (this includes patients who, in many cases, make that leap of faith to try something new and investigational). Maybe this question is tough because it is tough to separate heroes from inspirational.

mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
JC: I love laughter and comedy. Hard to not focus on those. Funny movies always work for me and the occasional webcomic to just break up my day. I can cry for happy, I love watching people just achieve something that is against the odds. Recently, I’ve been watching the Olympics and there’s nothing like seeing some athlete who has had to struggle to get there – win. I may not cry out loud, but those same emotions of feeling strongly for someone’s success are there. Anger, well… I can probably come up with a long list while sitting in traffic.

mK: Hee hee… San Diego rush hour sucks! What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
JC: I’ve been really fortunate to have done a lot of interesting things in my career and my life. I spent several years working on a technology that would examine a patient’s tumor tissue and try and measure the amount of different proteins that may be driving that tumor. This was actually a pretty complex problem. And over the span of several years, I got to watch this grow from an early idea at a university to a test that was actually being used by physicians. And the best moment ever was when I sat in a physician’s office and she told me stories and showed me photos of patients who had benefited from the decisions driven by that test. That was tremendously gratifying.

mK: Pretty cool… Seeing the fruits of your labor had to be very humbling!  Based on what you’ve observed, what is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
JC: Uncertainty. Not even sure how to say more, it’s such a singular thing. I mean, even to be able to say ‘I beat this’. There are so many events between that first diagnosis and treatment (and maybe many treatments). It can be so exhausting and so I’m sure realizing that one is a survivor is not as simple as it sounds when I write it.

mK: Survivorship really is a complex range of emotions.  What is your guilty pleasure?
JC: Well, I could say something like cheeseburgers, but that’s really not anything hidden and I don’t feel that guilty about it. I like to watch Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens TV show and I sing in my car when no one’s looking.

mK: HAHAHA!  Getting caught singing in the car at a stop light is pretty embarrassing when you think you’re alone!  What do you like to do in your spare time?
JC: (lol) What spare time?! I have a horse and I love to go riding or even on some days just go to the barn and give her carrots and I just find being there relaxing. I also get on these jags where I like to ‘make’ things, nothing in particular, but if I think of some little machine or device I can build or play with I tend to like learn and do.

mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
JC: I think for me, after a recent experience with a family member, I think that along with the advice that many have given regarding being close to one and other, I think that there is also a need for people to be forgiving of each other and themselves. A daunting diagnosis is a scary thing and everyone acts or feels a little differently and they need to know they can be comfortable to express things and be loved and forgiven no matter what. They need to know that even though others may approach the problem differently or react differently, in the end, it’s a very personal moment and we all need to give each other some room to react.

mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
JC: I kept bees for about three years. Wasn’t that good at it, but it was one of those little ‘jags’ I mentioned where I wanted to try it (and get over my fear of bees).

mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
JC: Keep up the fight and spreading the message that you and others are out there. It’s easy to feel really alone with a bad diagnosis and so knowing others are out there who are in the same boat and working on a common cause can make someone feel much better.

Dr. Jason Christiansen: bee keeper, horseman, tinkerer, car crooner, accomplished oncology researcher, and driven mAss Kicker!  Thanks again for doing this Dr. Christiansen.  Thanks for all you’ve accomplished for oncology patients.  Check out the clinical trial STARTRK-2 to see if you or someone you know is eligible for this trial.

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