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The Front Line

 

The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair
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Meet the EO: James Rae, PhD

September 15, 2017 - There’s no one quite like SWOG Executive Officer James Rae in or out of SWOG. He is truly a unique member of my leadership team. He’s not a physician, but a biologist with a PhD in pharmacology. He oversees one of SWOG’s most unique assets – our biospecimen bank. He’s arguably our biggest college football fan.

And then there are his “labels.” No “James.” No “Dr. Rae.” To everyone, he’s Jimmy Rae or simply JR. No fancy titles, please.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Jimmy Rae’s roles. He is our go-to for most translational science questions that arise from our trials – tissue sampling, genetic screening methods, study tools, and drug interactions. He is the link to our partners at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the Columbus, OH health care system which runs our 800,000-plus specimen bank. Children’s holds blood, tissue, and other samples taken as part of SWOG trials, and is a major resource to researchers worldwide. In short, Jimmy Rae, along with TM Vice Chair Dr. Lee Ellis, fully covers the “bench” in “bench-to-bedside” for all of SWOG.

On our weekly “triage” calls, where we review and approve new SWOG trial concepts, Jimmy Rae is the person most likely to know about that new assay or question the wisdom of a particular TM hypothesis. He monitors the withdrawals and deposits and storage requirements at our bank. More importantly, he acts as both protector and evangelist for it, making sure these precious resources go to the most worthy projects and that cancer researchers know about this vast public resource at their disposal.

We value Jimmy Rae’s expertise, as well as his enthusiasm, humility, reliability, and willingness to speak up with questions and opinions. He came to SWOG in 2002, thanks to Dr. Dan Hayes, his co-collaborator on breast trials at University of Michigan. Jimmy Rae came to tap our samples – the same ones he now oversees. But he stayed because he is a true believer.

“When I got to SWOG, I was amazed at how well everyone got along and how they worked collaboratively,” he says. “I loved the access I had to statisticians, surgeons, oncologists – so many experts from across the country. SWOG has an enormous breadth and depth of expertise. Developing a clinical trial takes a lot of teamwork, and a lot of discussions, and our team is a good one. For me, it’s all about the team, the team, the team.”

Spoken like a true football fan. And a true scientist – always in love with learning and discovery. Jimmy Rae likes to joke that he went to college in 1983 and never left. And it’s true. After finishing Georgetown with a biology degree, Jimmy Rae took a job working in the lab of the legendary Dr. Marc Lippman. He ditched the idea of medical school, and decided to pursue science, and joined the lab of Dr. Dave Flockhart while pursuing his PhD at Georgetown. It was there he fell in love with pharmacology. He went on to University of Michigan, where he serves as the Thomas H. Simpson Collegiate Professor of Cancer Research and associate professor of pharmacology. He runs a robust lab focused on how genetics plays a role in response to breast cancer treatments.

Jimmy Rae was brought on to oversee the SWOG bank in 2010, and I’m grateful he’s stayed on the leadership team. He says he’d be crazy not to: “The people I work for and with, I’ve got the utmost respect for. I’m surrounded by the nicest, most hardworking people.” Surrounded by, and one of…….

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