University of Washington
Professor of Dermatology, Medicine & Pathology
George F. Odland Endowed Chair and Head of the Division of Dermatology
Affiliate Investigator, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Dr. Nghiem is a physician-scientist and leader in research and treatment of the rare and deadly skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). The reported incidence of MCC has quadrupled in the past 2 decades, and its associated mortality is 3 times higher than that of malignant melanoma. The incidence and survival of MCC caused by a polyomavirus are strongly linked to the dysfunction of the immune system’s T cells.
Studies by Dr. Nghiem’s team have resulted in the first two FDA-approved therapies for MCC – the immune checkpoint inhibitors, avelumab and pembrolizumab, which release the natural brake on the immune system and allow T cells to kill cancer cells. His team developed a blood test that is now routinely used clinically to detect recurrent MCC earlier and more reliably than scans.
Dr. Nghiem and Dr. Suzanne Topalian, a leader in cancer immunotherapy and MCC induced by UV light, have previously discovered that 50% of MCC patients can have long-lasting benefit from the new immunotherapy called immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs). It is not known why other MCC patients do not respond.
With NFCR support, Dr. Nghiem and Dr. Topalian are collaborating to tackle the problem of why and how the body’s immune system sees virus-induced and UV light-induced MCC differently. With cutting-edge technologies and samples of tumors from patients with either virus- or UV light-induced MCC, the collaborative teams will study every gene in the tumor infiltrating T cells or TILs – the cancer fighting immune cells.
This direct comparison of T cell responses to the two types of MCC can lead to new combinations of existing ICIs and new therapies to save more patients with MCC.
Paul Nghiem, M.D., Ph.D., is the George F. Odland Endowed Chair and Head of the Division of Dermatology at the University of Washington. In 1994, he received his M.D. and his Ph.D. in cancer biology from Stanford Medical School. Prior to joining the University of Washington in 2006, he was an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Dr. Nghiem has been recognized for his clinical and laboratory research. He received the 2014 Alfred Marchionini Research Prize (a single international prize awarded to a dermatologist every four years at the World Congress of Dermatology). In 2019 he was awarded the Eugene J. Van Scott Award for Significant Contributions Toward Innovative Therapy of the Skin. Dr. Nghiem has published over 160 papers that have been cited over 17,000 times.
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Questions You Should Be Asking Your Oncologist
The results are in, and you have cancer. Though no appointment will be stress-free, the first appointment with your oncologist is often the most difficult. It’s scary, you’re unfamiliar with the jargon, and you have so many questions and worries racing through your mind that it is hard to focus. Because of this, it is vital to prepare for your first appointment – and knowing what to ask is essential. Write Down Questions as They Come Up From the moment you have your diagnosis, keep a notebook handy where you can document every question that comes into your mind. There will be a lot, and it will be impossible to remember all of them without recording them. Writing questions as they come helps keep your thoughts in order and allows you to be your own advocate. Even with the best care team in the world, there is no better advocate for you than you. Basic Questions to Ask Your Oncologist Not sure what to ask? The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) has your back. Get the conversation rolling with questions like these: 1. Where did my cancer originate? Has it spread? This will likely be the first thing your care team discusses, but it is essential that you fully understand your diagnosis. 2. Is there a genetic link to this type of cancer? Should my family members be tested? Many cancers are genetic, and this question can potentially save lives. 3. What treatment options are available? Ask your care team what they recommend and why. There may be numerous options, and your doctor should be able to explain the pros and cons of each one. 4. What happens if the treatment approach doesn’t work? Knowing this will help your peace of mind, but it also allows you to assess if your care team is the right fit. Some teams may be more risk-averse, and others may be more willing to try new therapies. Speak to your care team about how/when they consider a treatment unsuccessful and what the next steps would be. 5. How will you help me manage side effects? Review the potential side effects and what support you can receive. Speaking about side effects early on will allow your care plan to be proactive rather than reactive. 6. What will my treatment cost? Cancer treatments can be expensive, and you will want to prepare for this. Your care team can also discuss what treatments your insurance may cover and what options it will not. 7. What can I do to preserve my fertility? If you want biological children in the future, this is vital to ask. Addressing it after treatment begins can be too late. 8. What impact will treatment have on my lifestyle? It may be unavoidable, but preparing for any impact on your lifestyle can make the transition easier. 9. Where can I get more information or support? Your care team deals with diagnoses day in and day out. They are a wealth of information and can point you toward resources, groups, and more. NFCR may also be able to help via our Patient Assistance […]