By Charles Robertson
If there is a super hero in the world of adult sarcoma research, I believe I recently met her. She is Dr. Dina Chelouche Lev at the UT MD Anderson Adult Sarcoma Research Center.
Arriving at the research center, I recognized Dr. Lev from a photo. As she greeted me and let me in the secure facility, she explained about their recent move. We made our way on to the elevator to the second floor and down a hall of many file cabinets. Having seen quite a few labs over the years, I kept thinking how much larger the research facility was than what I had anticipated. We settled in Dr. Lev’s office and she proceeded with a brief background about the Adult Sarcoma Research Center.
Dr. Lev joined the MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) after marrying Raphael Pollock, MD, PhD. With 30 years of experience at MDACC and the Head of Division of Surgery, Dr. Pollock is dedicated to patient care and research in soft tissue sarcoma.
Having also been a surgeon, Dr. Lev observed many types of sarcoma and was fascinated by the underdog, or under-funded adult sarcoma. Her expressiveness, passion and free spirit aura reminded me of a flower child of the sixties. Dr. Lev’s passion for her work in adult sarcoma research is clearly a labor of love and dedication. I said “awesome” several times, as I learned about the amazing work she was doing.
In 2006, Dr. Lev assembled her interdisciplinary team that uses methods and insights of several established disciplines. Her team involves researchers, medical students, interns, biologists and various others with the goals of connecting and integrating several academic schools of thought, professions or technologies – along with their specific perspectives, due to the diverse background of individuals from all over the world.
As we toured the research center, Dr. Lev showed me multiple lab areas whereexperiments take place. She explained how a tumor is sliced, diced and grown in a petri dish. Essentially a tumor lasts forever, although researchers would not know the origin of the donor. She pointed out several types of sterile environments within the center. Of course, there were lines of different types of refrigerators for growing cultures, multiple rows of lab benches, mini closed-door labs and a general office area.
I asked how she keeps up with all the progress of the research being conducted. I learned that Dr. Lev meets with each person individually for 30-minute sessions throughout the week as well as various team meetings. It was no surprise to learn that Dr. Lev works seven days a week starting at 5:00 am until late in the evening. Like every great doctor, she also has a dedicated and committed staff.
Dr. Lev was upfront about the cost of research. In other words, where does the money go? It costs approximately $1.2 million to operate the facility on an annual basis. Sixty percent of donations go toward salary, with the remaining funds for sarcoma research.
It’s important to note a word of advice that Dr. Lev shared. Since soft tissue sarcoma is relatively uncommon, someone diagnosed with sarcoma should seek treatment at a center where an interdisciplinary medical team has experience in treating this rare disease.
It’s reassuring to know that people like Dr. Lev work tirelessly to make a difference. She is truly an amazing individual whose passion and devotion will no doubt lead to breakthroughs in finding a cure for sarcoma. I honestly look forward to another visit to learn more about my new found, super hero of sarcoma research.
The MD Anderson Adult Sarcoma Center is one of the largest treatment centers in the world. From clinical patient care to research, the multidisciplinary approach involves pathologists, radiologists, surgeons, radiation therapists and medical oncologists. This approach has proven most effective for sarcoma patients. For more information about adult sarcoma, visit www.ericddavisfoundation.org.