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Alana Lelo, PhD

Headshot of medical student Alana Lelo wearing a white lab coat

Alana Lelo is a sixth-year MD/PhD student at Georgetown University School of Medicine. After completing her pre-clinical coursework, she joined the lab of Todd Waldman, MD, PhD to conduct her thesis research. Her thesis project focuses on the role of STAG2 inactivation in papillary non-muscle-invasive urothelial carcinoma. Ultimately, after her successful thesis defense, she will return to Georgetown University School of Medicine to complete medical training and pursue a pathology residency so that she is optimally situated to best utilize her basic, translational, and clinical training to advance biomedical science.

Alana is a recent graduate from the GHUCCTS Translational Biomedical Science (TBS) Scholar Program

Describe your research interests and how you chose this area of research.

Overall, I am most interested in how we can leverage scientific advancements made at the bench into clinically meaningful discoveries. Bladder cancer is grossly understudied in the United States, despite its increasing prevalence. As of now, we do not have a good way to predict if patients will recur or if their cancer will progress into a much more dangerous disease. We discovered that STAG2 seems to trend with recurrence, so I decided to see if we can exploit this knowledge clinically to change the current treatment paradigm.

How does GHUCCTS help you to achieve your research goals and advance your career in clinical and translational research? How will the CTSA program help to advance knowledge and treatments for patients with the disease(s) you study?

GHUCCTS has provided me with essential training and resources to pursue my career endeavors. As an MD/PhD candidate, I have a special interest in the translational sciences; ultimately I see my work spanning the divide between basic and clinical research. This program has prepared me to do just that. I have had intensive training in biostatistical analysis, clinical trial design, grantsmanship, and ethics to name a few. Moreover, the CTSA has enabled me to travel to national conferences to discuss my work, which in turn, has led to fruitful collaborations.

Why is it important to have both disciplinary and ethnic/cultural diversity in medical research? How does diversity contribute to your research? How does diversity enhance scientific discovery?

It is vital to have diversity in all contexts in scientific research. In terms of disciplinary diversity, we need experts with different skill sets- bench scientists, clinicians, patient advocates, biostatistics, etc- so that we can most effectively and comprehensively answer a complex question. Ethnic and cultural diversity is also incredibly important to consider when posing scientific hypotheses. For example, in the context of bladder cancer, there is a racial discrepancy in incidence rates and stage-at-diagnosis. It is key to consider this when designing and analyzing experiments to ensure that our results are applicable to the population at large.

How does clinical translational research benefit our communities, both directly and indirectly?

This research will directly impacts patients. Our hope is that one day, instead of constantly surveilling patients by invasive means, we will be able to use less-invasive and more effective approaches to improve health outcomes.

October 19, 2018