“ Cancer tips the scale one way and to find a cure, we need to shutdown the cancer while maintaining an overall balance in the system. Research allows to focus on what is going on and to find new ways to specifically treat the cancer.
Pieter Eichhorn is another international researcher on the mAss Kickers Foundation Board of Directors. Dr. Eichhorn is currently on the faculty at National University, Singapore: Cancer Science Institute where his current research is focused on chemo resistant cancers. From 2010-2012 he was an instructor at Harvard Medical School and an assistant in genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital. He did his post doc research at Vall d’Hebron of Oncology in Spain under the direction of Dr. Jose Baselga and the Dept of Molecular Carcinogenesis at the Netherlands Cancer Institute under the direction of Prof. Rene Bernards. We connected with Dr. Eichhorn on our latest trip to Singapore and were impressed by his commitment to oncology research and his desire to connect research with international oncology advocacy! We were fortunate to catch up with him and we are proud to introduce Dr. Eichhorn as the latest addition to the mAss Kickers family.
mK: Thanks for doing this interview Dr. Eichhorn! What is your relationship to tumors/cancer:
PE: I am an assistant professor and group leader at the Cancer Science Institute in Singapore. My work evolves around identifying the reasons to why some cancers are very sensitive to chemotherapy but others don’t respond at all. For example a novel class of compounds has recently been developed targeting a protein called PI3K. PI3K and genes that activate the PI3K are mutated in approximately 70% of breast cancer. These novel PI3K compounds or inhibitors have shown some amazing results in clinical trials however, in some patients these compounds actually increase the tumour burden of the patients. We have recently demonstrated that in patients that have activation of a protein called RSK, results in the desensitization of PI3K inhibitors. That because RSK functions in a parallel manner to what PI3K does. The identification of these so called Biomarkers for sensitivity is critical to identifying which patients will benefit the most from these drugs.
mK: How did you end up in Singapore?
PE: Well first I was born here and then moved away when I was just a child. But the main reason was that Singapore offered me the opportunity to do the work I really wanted to do and the freedom to do it.
mK: Why is research so important?
PE: How the body works and functions is so extremely complicated and we are only beginning to understand how, when and why genes and proteins function. Cancer tips the scale one way and to find a cure, we need to shutdown the cancer while maintaining an overall balance in the system. Research allows to focus on what is going on and to find new ways to specifically treat the cancer.
mK: We completely agree! There is so much in the oncology world just waiting to be discovered! Why did you get involved with mAss Kickers Foundation?
PE: A friend of mine introduced me to mAss Kickers and I hosted a mAss Kickers symposium here in Singapore. The stories of the people touched me and I wanted to find out a way I could help.
mK: We were very impressed with all the ground breaking Oncology research happening at National University, Singapore(NUS) and feel very honored you joined our team! Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
PE My parents were both hugely influential in my life but on a more simplistic level, I always wanted to meet Wayne Gretzky. Growing up in Canada and playing hockey as a eight, nine, ten year old boy there was absolutely no one that I thought could play the game better.
mK: “The “Great One” truly was a great one! What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
PE: Ignorant people
mK: What would you say is the most interesting non-science-related thing you’ve ever done?
PE: The best thing I ever did in my life was to take two and half months off and go and travel through out Europe. This was before cell phones and internet and I remember the adventure but also the unique feeling of nobody knowing where you are. It was wonderful.
mK: Based on what you’ve observed, what is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
PE: I remember reading Lance Armstrong’s biography, “Its not about the bike”, and the comment he made that after his cancer went into remission that he had to begin to trust his own body again. “Oh, there’s a pain in my stomach, has my cancer come again?” That question I had never thought about. You just don’t know. You had cancer and there is a very good chance that it might come back one day. I think that for survivors that fact must be hard to deal with.
mK: Yes, the fear of relapse is very real, but it can help a survivor evolve into something better: eating better, exercising more, … What is your guilty pleasure?
PE: Don’t know about guilty pleasures. But nothing makes me smile more then seeing my wife and daughter happy that and standing on top on a ski slope with three feet of fresh powder.
mK: What are you up to now?
PE: Right now we are working to understand the mechanisms of resistance to vemurafenib in patients with melanoma.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
PE: You don’t know what’s going to happen so make everyday count, and that might be the next 100 days, 1000 days or even the next 10,000 days.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
PE: I support Middlesborough untied football club.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
PE: mAss Kickers came to give a talk in my institute and they really touched the lives on a number of people here. Keep fighting!!!!
Dr. Pieter Eichhorn: Soccer/ Futbol fanatic, family man, avid skier, European backpacker, Wayne Gretsky disciple, and proactive oncology researcher. We are very excited to have him on the Board of Directors and look forward to future collaborations with Cancer Science Institute of Singapore at National University, Singapore.