Mateusz Opyrchal, M.D., Ph.D., began the New Year with a new job as the inaugural Vera Bradley Foundation Scholar in Breast Cancer Discovery in the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. He also serves as the co-program leader of the cancer center’s Experimental and Development Therapeutics research program with Xiongbin Lu, Ph.D., and director of the solid tumor Phase I program.
Dr. Opyrchal’s research focuses on novel therapeutic approaches and enhancing immune responses in triple negative breast cancer. His recruitment, made possible by Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer funding, expands IU’s leadership and knowledge base for the immunotherapy initiative with the goal of developing innovative approaches to help patients with this disease.
Dr. Opyrchal answered questions about what brought him to IU, his research, and more.
Q. What attracted you to IU?
A. I was drawn by the opportunity to build a great program to move great science being done at IU into the clinic.
Q. What can you tell us about your research?
A. I’m interested in discovering new cancer targets with an emphasis on how they affect the tumor cells directly and the microenvironment surrounding them.
Q. How do you see immunotherapy transforming the future of cancer treatment?
A. We have all seen the impact immunotherapy has had already on the treatment of many cancers. Unfortunately, most patients with solid tumors, outside of a few outliers like melanoma, receive limited or no benefit from current immunotherapy treatments. I’m hopeful that we will be able to increase the number of patients benefiting from treatments and overcome some of the resistance pathways to increase duration of response.
Q. What do you find most exciting about your cancer research?
A. I think we all start out with the big dream of curing cancer. The many years of reality have shown us how difficult it is, but I’m hopeful that my research will bring us one small step closer.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of being a physician?
A. There are many, but if I was going to highlight a few: the relationships with patients where often you learn more from them about yourself and life in general as you guide them through the disease treatments; the relationship with your colleagues is also very rewarding and allows you to continually learn; and the relationship with the mentees and seeing them grow into their roles and become successful.
Q. As you look back on your career, which cancer research advances most stand out to you?
A. I started my fellowship just as ipilimumab (an immunotherapy medication) was approved and the changes over the last 10 years have been amazing to observe. Also, the concept of personalized medicine has developed and how to concentrate on one patient at a time with their unique features.
Q. What are the biggest questions in cancer research that keep you up at night?
A. I think we are all struggling with being better at preventing and curing metastatic disease without causing undue toxicities.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
A. Trying to keep my two boys out of causing trouble seems to take up a lot of time. I find myself taking up taekwondo, golf and hiking in hopes of focusing their energies somewhere else–so far with not too much success outside of sore muscles for me.