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LTRI: Behind the Science: Dr. Daniel Schramek

Jan. 13, 2020

Daniel Schramek

This interview with Dr. Daniel Schramek, investigator at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, or LTRI, is part of Behind the Science, a regular series from Sinai Health Foundation that asks some of its brightest and world-leading researchers about what drives their curiosity about the human body in health and illness.

What is your area of research and what are you hoping to discover?

Our lab is using genomics to uncover the mutations that trigger breast, brain, and head and neck cancer. By determining the genes that cause cancer, we hope to discover new ways of treating these cancers.

What’s been your biggest ‘A-HA’ moment to date?

In most cancers, only a few genes mutate at high frequencies, while the vast majority mutate at low frequencies. Why the infrequent ‘long-tail’ mutations occur remains largely elusive. We use CRISPR to assess 484 long-tail genes and determine their potential of transforming into head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, as well as breast and brain cancers.

Unexpectedly, it turns out that many of the ‘long-tail’ mutations functions in a haploinsufficient manner and converge on a specific signaling pathway specific for a given cancers. It also seems that a very high percentage of tumors within a specific cancer harbors mutations in this pathway, making this discovery potentially clinically relevant. One can speculate the mutations that drive this cancer might be simpler than assumed, especially when considering a pathway-centric view of the disease.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced and why?

Leading a diverse team of people with different expectations, skill sets, histories, cultures and personalities. Another challenge I’ve faced is creating a work environment that encourages creativity and failure, evokes trust and respect, recognizes the individual but shares success and rewards, motivates by passion and vision, celebrates success and failure, and foremost unites all this with the joy and fun of science.

What’s been one of your greatest rewards in your career so far?

Some of the findings in my PhD have now helped to lead towards a clinical breast cancer prevention trial.

What is one thing you’d like to accomplish in the next decade?

First, I would really like to further our understanding of cancer and help to devise some novel therapeutic strategies for hard to treat cancers, such as certain brain, and head and neck cancers. I would also like to train and facilitate the careers of the next generation of scientists: ‘The seeds of today is the flower of tomorrow’.

What is on your bucket list?

A back-packing trip with my family to Southeast Asia.

What would your perfect day be like?

Being woken up by my kids, brunch with my wife (without kids), hitting the slopes in the Alps on a sunny day with my brothers (or sailing in the Mediterranean), spa with my wife and splash-swimming with my kids in the afternoon, fancy steak dinner with the extended family, stand-up comedy in the evening and a dirty Martini with extra olive on a rooftop club with my friends in New York.

Who would you invite, alive or dead, to your dream dinner party?

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Socrates, Freddy Mercury, Viola Desmond, Craig Mello, Tina Turner, L v. Beethoven, Kaiserin Maria Theresia, Rosalind Franklin, to name a few.


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