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Trainee Spotlight: Tim Beck

Tim Beck
MD/PhD Student
Dr. Erica Golemis’s Lab
Fox Chase Cancer Center



One might say that Tim was destined to bridge the gap between medicine and research.  After receiving his Bachelor of Science from Manhattan College, Tim initially pursed a career as a nuclear medicine technologist.  Through his close interactions with patients, he was inspired to go further into medicine, setting his sights on medical school.  While completing his requirements for the medical school application, he met and then later joined Dr. Monika Konaklieva’s lab at American University. Through his work studying anti-microbial compounds, Tim discovered a love for research that rivaled his interest in medicine. Subsequently, Tim applied to several M.D./PhD programs and is currently enrolled at Drexel University College of Medicine. Being specifically interested in oncology and translational medicine, Tim joined Dr. Erica Golemis’ laboratory at Fox Chase Cancer Center for his PhD training in 2012. His work focuses on cancer cell signaling, predictive biomarkers and drug resistance mechanisms. Tim’s immediate career goals are to finish medical school and apply to research pathway internal medicine/hematology oncology programs.

Research Overview

One focus of the Golemis Laboratory is to study cancer biology in an effort to predict and test the efficacy of preclinical and clinically approved drugs.  For example, in one of our recent publications, we noted that some patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck had had a much better therapeutic outcome than others.  All of these patients were human papillomavirus (HPV) negative and had been treated with surgery alone or with surgery and radiation. We simply asked if retrospective analysis of tumor samples would, on a biological level, provide an explanation for the survival discrepancies among patients and if we could identify biomarkers that suggest use of alternative therapeutic interventions for patients that did particularly poorly. We found that patients that expressed high levels of phosphorylated retinoblastoma 1 (pRB1) protein (a protein that blocks cell cycle progression in an unphosphorylated state) did significantly worse than patients with low levels of pRB1. Interestingly, RB1 is phosphorylated by cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 (CDK4/6), two proteins for which a specific inhibitor was just approved by the FDA based on clinical studies in breast cancer. This rather exciting turn of events has now led to submission of a window-of-opportunity study request, in which we propose to take pre-operative biopsies, test for pRB1 levels, treat with the CDK4/6 inhibitor for a few weeks, and test pRB1 levels again at the time of operation, which is the standard of care for most of these patients. This should allow us to see if pRB1 is a potential predictor of response to CDK4/6 inhibitors in head and neck cancer. Our hope is to eventually initiate a clinical trial that uses pRB1 levels to select patients for treatment with a CDK4/6 inhibitor. This work was only possible because of close collaboration with our medical oncologists, specifically Dr. Ranee Mehra, Dr. John Kaczmar, and Dr. Barbara Burtness, the support provided by surgeons Dr. John Ridge and Dr. Miriam Lango, and Dr. Elizabeth Handorf’s expertise as a statistician, as well as the support from several other colleagues. 

Featured Publication

 2015 Aug 7;6(22):18863-74.

Phospho-T356RB1 predicts survival in HPV-negative squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.

Beck TN1,2, Kaczmar J1,3, Handorf E1, Nikonova A1, Dubyk C1, Peri S1, Lango M4, Ridge JA4, Serebriiskii IG1,5, Burtness B6, Golemis EA1,2, Mehra R1,3.