When she was just 5 years old, Janice Lu, MD, PhD, decided to become a doctor. Her mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Lu was determined from that point on to make a difference in the world of breast cancer research and treatment.
“This was always what I wanted to do, cancer related research,” Lu, associate director of breast cancer research and director of breast cancer clinical trials at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, recalls. “Become, not just a clinician, but a scientist – knowing what to do, how to fight cancer. Try to make patient’s lives better.”
Lu, who is also clinical professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, is one of the newest experts in cancer research and clinical care to join USC Norris. She is already making an impact both with patients and with the clinical trials program for breast cancer. In the three months since coming on board, she has begun work on three new clinical trials and submitted a grant to open even more studies.
“Keck Medicine has a lot of great research projects and many very talented researchers that I can collaborate with,” Lu says. “It’s a fantastic program — the cancer center, research programs, division of medical oncology, clinical programs. There are many things that we collaborate together on. There are many things I am doing now, and in the future I’d like to do more.”
From the start, Lu has been driven to excel both in the lab and in clinical settings. After earning her MD, she started in a PhD program in molecular and cell biology at Syracuse University, studying under David Allis, PhD, a pioneer in the field of epigenetics at Rockefeller University — the science of making external modifications to DNA that change how cells react to the genes without changing the DNA sequence itself.
Lu continued into residency and fellowship programs at NYU, specializing in hematology and oncology. While at NYU, she was mentored by Franco Muggia, MD, who once served as the director of clinical investigations and medical oncology at Keck Hospital of USC and Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center.
“I’m very grateful that he trained me to be a good clinician,” Lu says, “He taught me to work with patients from the scientific angle related to drug developments and clinical trials and finding the right agents to make patient’s lives better.” This foundation in “bench to bedside” care taught Lu what is one of the main tenets of her work — to treat the whole patient, not just the disease. “Care for the patient as a person,” she begins. “Improve their quality of life, improve their survival, decrease the chance of toxicity and side effects of the treatment.”
Before coming to Southern California, Lu spent eight years as the director of the breast medical oncology program at SUNY Stony Brook. She also spent two years as an associate professor of clinical medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She joined Keck Medicine in February 2016.
She notes that her career has centered around academic medical centers, which was a conscious decision on her part. “I think that in academic medical centers, that’s where I can take care of patients and at the same time do research for the benefit of patients,” she says. “Not just follow the guidebooks, but work together with others to invent something that is meaningful for patient’s lives.”
Lu’s commitment to the quality of her patient’s lives is not limited to the time she spends at work. She gives community lectures about cancer prevention and treatment, and volunteers with the Cancer Support Community in Santa Monica and Pasadena.
She’s also raising a son, who is 16 and very keen on science himself. “He likes science very much and he does quite a bit of research at his age in different labs, actually,” she says with a proud smile.Successfully treating patients and helping them achieve a longer, healthier life gives Lu the most satisfaction. “I love to see patients doing well, living a good life,” Lu says. “Seeing their children graduate from high schools, colleges, seeing their grandchildren. That’s really rewarding to me.”
By Amanda Busick