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Talks with Docs: Don Ayer, Cancer Researcher

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Video Transcript

I think it's incredibly important to have representation from all walks of life in our workforce because I think it makes us better.

My name is Don Ayer. I'm a professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences. I'm also the senior director of Cancer Training and Career Enhancement here at HCI. I'm also an investigator at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

What research is your lab currently working on?

My group for the last 15 years has really been interested in how cells sense and respond to different nutrients that feed tumors. Cancer cells have really figured out a way to use a lot more glucose than normal cells, and if we can understand the mechanisms that drive that high level of glucose use, we can potentially starve tumor cells.

When did you know you wanted to be a scientist?

It was kind of always science. My father was a medicinal chemist in his professional life. One of the great things about science is there is a fair amount of creativity that goes into it and trying to make connections between different areas of research that aren't incredibly obvious or not immediately obvious. The best scientists are the ones who are most creative and can think outside the box.

What’s something your colleagues might not know about you?

In the last four or five years, I've really become a pretty dedicated yogi. I go probably to four or five yoga classes per week. I wouldn't say I'm great at it but I know what most of the poses are and I don't scream out in pain when I do them.

Who has inspired you?

My postdoctoral mentor was really an inspiration and continues to be so. His name is Robert Eisenman. He's a scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where I did my postdoctoral training, and his level of enthusiasm for the work he did was really an inspiration and is something that I've admired ever since.

What role do trainees play in cancer research?

They're really the people who drive cancer research forward, is the trainees. It's just so inspirational to see young trainees find their stride, mentor them, help them along the way, and get them to the point where they become the experts and they're actually in some ways teaching you more than you've been able to teach them.

What do you look for in a potential trainee?

We have open arms and are really most interested in providing opportunities to students who wouldn't normally have chances to come to a cancer institute. Diversity is incredibly important and it's pretty well established that the biomedical research workforce does not reflect the diversity in our population.

The diversity of opinions, a diversity of training, a diversity of ideas, provides strength that I think can be really foundational. I think it's incredibly important to have representation from all walks of life in our workforce because I think it makes us better.