Learning From Experience: V Scholar Dr. Ash Alizadeh
Article by Abigail Ancherico
Dr. Ash Alizadeh, a 2014 V Scholar grant recipient, has received recognition for his work in academic hematology and oncology and for his dedication toward disease-related research. As the Martin D. Abeloff, M.D. V Scholar, Dr. Alizadeh is working on a project titled Non-Invasive Detection and Monitoring of Tumors and Body Fluids at the Stanford Cancer Center in Palo Alto, California. His journey is one of diverse and exciting experiences that have motivated and influenced his accomplishments.
From a young age, as the son of a pediatrician, Dr. Alizadeh was fascinated with the art of healing and the stories of each patient. In 1986, he left Iran as a teenager with his father so he would not be drafted into war. Dr. Alizadeh also remembers close relatives who lost their lives to cancer. These experiences and influences inspired his work in the field of cancer research and his interest in the disease.
During college, he explored medicine further through his involvement in several clinics, which eventually led him to pursue a career as a physician scientist. His research in cancer biology and encouragement from valuable mentors and teachers are factors he credits for his passion for academic oncology.
“Initially, I was interested in basic science, primarily to satisfy my own intellectual curiosity,” said Dr. Alizadeh, describing the evolution of his work. “Yet, what I had not appreciated was that, in addition to satisfying this curiosity through research, I would learn how to think critically, to approach experimental questions systematically yet practically and to anticipate the possible outcomes.”
In preparation for a career as an independent investigator in academic hematology and oncology, he sought and continues to seek training experiences that emphasize a balance between research, teaching and patient care.
“Basic science has and will always provide me the intellectual pleasure of serendipity and discovery,” Dr. Alizadeh wrote in his medical school application. “Research has been an integral part of my undergraduate education, and I plan to continue in similar exploration as a medical student and as a physician.”
His interest in cancer-related research partially stemmed from his volunteer work at the UCLA Medical Center. After sharing his frustrations with his mother regarding the inadequacy of medical science for the disease, she said, “Progress requires that you roll up your sleeves.”
Driven by the vision of this progress, he began seeking experiences that would contribute to the advancement of medical science. Bridging the gap between basic cancer biology and clinical oncology seemed possible with years of substantial effort.
“I see academic oncology as a field which has within its grasp the ability to take the knowledge gained through basic research and realize its practical translation – to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, a leading cause of mortality in this country,” said Dr. Alizadeh.
While a Ph.D. student, Dr. Alizadeh married his wife, Jennifer Boldrick, M.D. They are now the proud parents of two children. When he is not paving the way for cancer research, Dr. Alizadeh enjoys barbeques, listening to RadioLab on National Public Radio, hiking, playing squash with his wife or lab mates, watching basketball, playing chess and basketball with his son and painting with his daughter.
“My experiences over the past two decades at the bench and the bedside have served as an invaluable apprenticeship in the technical and intellectual processes of basic research,” Dr. Alizadeh said. “I trust that these experiences will help me, as a physician scientist, to contribute to the advancement of medical science.”