RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: RAYA SAAB, MD

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Associate Professor, Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine

Deputy Director, Children’s Cancer Institute

American University of Beirut, Lebanon

 

1.Where are you from?/Where did you study?

I was born and grew up in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon. I completed my undergraduate and medical studies at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, then travelled to the United States. I did my residency in Pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, then a fellowship in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and stayed on for an additional year of training to continue my basic research training, as well as focus on solid tumors of childhood.

2. What are you researching right now?

My laboratory studies the process of cellular senescence as a tumor suppressor response, and one of our projects involves a mouse model of pineoblastoma, where a pre-malignant hyperplastic process evolves into invasive pineoblastoma when senescence is compromised by loss of tumor suppressors. We are working to understand the molecular pathways underlying this progression, and validating potential targets for therapeutic intervention.

3. Who is your all-time favorite scientist and why?

It would have to be Leonardo Da Vinci. Though much more than a scientist, he was driven by a passion for knowledge and discovery that is palpable even to us at this age. His confidence and intellect is obvious from his ability to boldly think outside the box both in both practical as well as adventurous projects and questions. His ability to excel in both the sciences and the arts is almost incredible to comprehend and worthy of awe.

4. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Though it may sound boring, my favorite spare time activity is relaxing, sleeping, and spending time with family. I also enjoy travelling, seeing new places and sampling different cultures of the world.  I try to travel for leisure for a few days every couple of months, and my trips are usually tightly packed with visiting historic sites, sampling authentic local cuisine, and always a little bit of touristic shopping!

5. Favorite food?

I love Lebanese food, and this was augmented after living away from home for almost 8 years. My favorite food would probably be the Lebanese broad beans stew with beef and rice… yummy

6. Why science?

I have always been intrigued by science and interested in better understanding ourselves and the world around us. I used to role play as a scientist since I was 6 years old, and early on in my teenage years decided to become a physician, for both the interest in helping ease the suffering of fellow human beings, as well as a deep interest in learning, studying, and investigating the intricate ways in which life works- at the molecular, cellular, and organismal level.

7. Who/What has inspired you to work on DIPG?

As a pediatric oncologist, it is heart-wrenching to diagnose a child with a disease which is largely untreatable and horribly lethal.  DIPG is currently one of those diagnoses.  Therefore, I pursue any opportunity for our site to participate in studies that attempt to better understand and treat these aggressive tumors, to work towards improvement in the outcome of these children.

8. What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading ‘Being Mortal’, by Atul Gawande. The book was a gift from a friend, and I enjoyed it immensely. It is very important for health care workers to sometimes step back and take a look from afar at our medical system and expectations, to better help our patients make informed decisions regarding what medicine can and cannot offer them as they are facing their mortality. The next book will be something more upbeat- maybe ‘Sapiens’?

9. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?

Follow your heart. If you want to go into research, make sure you are truly passionate about it, not just good at it. The gratification in a research career is largely intellectual and personal, so make sure you go into it for the right reasons.

 

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