Dr. Courtney Crane explained her background – and what drives her to do cancer research – in this Q&A with the Ben Towne Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.
Q. Can you summarize your role at the Ben Towne Center for Cancer Research? What do you do?
A. I direct a research group that aims to identify, design and apply new immune therapies for children with brain tumors.
Q. Why or how did you get into this line of work? What motivates you in your work?
A. My father was diagnosed with late-stage leukemia in 1996. For a year, my family watched helplessly as chemotherapy and radiation ravaged his already sick body. Then his oncology team enrolled him in a clinical trial for what is now the FDA-approved drug Rituxan. It not only extended his life, it allowed him to feel well. His immune system was killing off his cancer, and he was shopping at the Home Depot and grilling in the backyard. We were holding our breath, waiting for side effects that never came. It was a welcome surprise.
Initially I focused on immunology to understand the medical terminology and answer my father’s questions. The more I learned, the more I believed in the power of the immune system as a less toxic treatment for cancer. I had seen first-hand what it could do for a patient and the people who loved him. Kids who are fighting cancer and their families deserve a chance to beat the disease and not get so sick in the process. How could we not try to improve on chemotherapy and radiation?
Q. What do you find most rewarding in regards to your work at the center? What do you find most challenging?
A. The most challenging is the reality that 2013 is still a terrible time to have cancer. In spite of the advantages of working at this center and the bright future that I see for immunotherapy, development of these therapies is a process that takes time that I know many families don’t have.
The most rewarding has to be the community here in Seattle, both scientifically and outside of the lab. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by such thoughtful and collaborative colleagues at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The way that Dr. Mike Jensen is building the center, making lab discoveries into personalized therapies without ever leaving the building, is already decreasing the previously decades-long timeline.
The support coming from those outside of the lab is also a huge factor. Though we’ve only been open for a short time, there was immediate and unflagging support for the vision of the center. This is not only rewarding, but also motivating. I have the families in our community to answer to, and I don’t intend to let them down.
Q. What do you like to do when you aren’t at work? How do you spend your free time?
A. Relocating to Seattle has put my husband and I closer to family, so we enjoy spending time with them. I also like to spend time outside – hiking with our dog, stand up paddling, snowshoeing, and skiing.