We are excited to introduce you to Jessica Lin, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a Clinical Assistant in Medicine, Hematology/Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Lin has a wealth of experience and expertise in RET-positive oncology. We will learn more about Dr. Lin’s background and career, as well as the important work she is doing to improve the lives of patients with cancer. Here is a Q&A she recently did with RETpositive.
RETpositive: Why did you decide to go into thoracic oncology?
Jessica Lin: My interest in oncology blossomed while I was an undergraduate student in Harvard College. For my thesis research in biochemistry, I was fortunate to meet an incredible mentor who opened my eyes to all the therapeutic challenges that we still needed to overcome in cancers, and the foundation for driving the requisite advances, which was science. Then, throughout my medical school, residency, and fellowship training, that interest in oncology continued to be affirmed and developed into a commitment and passion.
My decision to focus my career in thoracic oncology was driven by three main factors: (1) the patients whom I met, who became the biggest source of inspiration and motivation for research; (2) mentors who truly exemplified for me what could be achieved with the combination of tireless dedication, innovative thinking, and compassion; and (3) the tight intersection between molecular science and therapeutic advances that was really palpable on a daily basis in the field.
RETpositive: What do you find most rewarding about your career?
Jessica Lin: I find it deeply rewarding when I witness how research is directly impacting the care of my patients in the clinic, enabling them to live longer and better. For example, one day, I walked in to converse with a patient participating in a clinical trial that I was running at Mass General. She had enrolled on that clinical trial on the basis of what we had learned about the biology of her cancer and what we understood about the scientific rationale for the trial drug.
The patient proceeded to tell me how well she was feeling—the best she had felt in years. There are other days when patients might share how they were able to celebrate their children’s high school graduation or the birth of their grandchildren thanks to the advances in cancer science and treatment.
The gratitude and happiness I feel on those days: indescribable.
RETpositive: What makes you hopeful about lung cancer treatments?
Jessica Lin: I am immensely hopeful about lung cancer treatments. We have witnessed an increasing pace of drug development and approvals in the past decade, and we have seen how these therapeutic advances directly translate into better and longer lives for patients. Yet, there is clearly more to do. Seeing and participating in the vast breadth of research that is happening globally — all aimed at delving deep into tumor biology and pushing the frontier of cutting-edge treatments: This makes me hopeful. Seeing and being part of scientists, clinicians, patients and caregivers all coming together with a shared commitment and passion for research: This gives me hope. Research is hope.
RETpositive: What sort of research are you involved in pertaining to RET driven lung cancer?
Jessica Lin: At Mass General, we have a team devoted to dissecting into the biology of lung cancers harboring oncogenic fusions such as RET fusions and developing novel treatments. We are now fortunate to have two highly effective RET-targeted inhibitors; however, many patients experience disease relapse because cancer cells acquire drug resistance. We are committed to unveiling why this happens, with the ultimate goal of driving discoveries of new knowledge and new therapies. We also seek to move beyond single RET-targeted inhibitors, incorporating other treatments (such as combinations or immune-based strategies) to transform outcomes in patients.
RETpositive: Why/when is it important for patients to see experts who are experienced in RARE mutations such as RET?
Jessica Lin: The understanding of RET fusion-positive cancer biology and optimal treatment sequencing is rapidly evolving. Seeing oncologists with expertise in such subtype of cancer could help in various aspects, including (but not limited to): (1) provide you with a deeper understanding of what it means to have this diagnosis, (2) ensure all optimal biomarker testing has been performed and suggest other testing such as re-biopsies if warranted, (3) guide you through both standard and clinical trial therapeutic options and how to select the optimal one for you at a particular juncture in disease course, (4) discuss other research opportunities that may be of interest to you.