Awardee Profile - Eyal Attar

Eyal Attar

2004 - Hematologist/oncologist Dr. Eyal Attar, a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. David Scadden's lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, lauds his mentor as an unwavering supporter and describes his experience in the Scadden lab as remarkably enriching.The two physicians first met when Dr. Attar was on a hematology rotation for which Dr. Scadden was the attending physician. "I saw that he had an excellent rapport with patients," Dr. Attar says, "and an encyclopedic knowledge of clinical medicine as well as the ability to think about medical problems both clinically and in terms of the molecular pathogenesis of the disease.

"At the end of our first fellowship year, we try to identify who our mentors will be," Dr. Attar recalls. "I approached Dr. Scadden about the possibility of working in his lab; we met a couple of times and discussed projects, and I was delighted when he offered me a position in his lab." Dr. Attar says that Dr. Scadden helped him develop a project and write a grant immediately upon entering the lab.

The Scadden lab operates within the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Technology, which Dr. Scadden oversees as director and which serves as a center for other laboratories similarly focused on stem cell biology. Dr. Scadden's laboratory investigates stem cells from the embryo to the adult and from normal to diseased states, focusing on identifying molecular pathways that will permit safe expansion of stem cells for use in therapeutic settings. Dr. Attar has been working to understand the interaction between normal and leukemic blood cells in the bone marrow environment and on the role of a novel receptor, GPR105, identified in Dr. Scadden's laboratory as important in blood stem cell quiescence. Most interesting, Dr. Attar explains, is a project that seeks to translate to the clinical setting the important finding made in Dr. Scadden's laboratory that stimulation of bone marrow support cells with parathyroid hormone results in expansion of primitive blood stem cells. This exciting finding, he says, may prove clinically useful in treating patients undergoing chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation.

Dr. Attar says he became interested in hematology/oncology in medical school--he attended both undergraduate and medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill--and his interest was confirmed during subsequent research experiences, primarily his research with Dr. Edison Liu, then at UNC-Chapel Hill and now executive director of the Genome Institute of Singapore. In fact, Dr. Attar took a year off during medical school to work with Dr. Liu and learn about molecular biology and cancer research. At the same time, he learned what a good mentor looks like: "I was fortunate in having Ed Liu as my mentor," Dr. Attar says. "He understood clinical medicine and patient interactions exquisitely well and was also a consummate scientist. I realized then that acquiring the right mentor was crucial--someone who could not only demonstrate but also teach one to balance science and clinical medicine."

In Dr. Scadden, Dr. Attar found similar admirable qualities. "Not only has he been an outstanding mentor to me, but his list of previous trainees is quite impressive, demonstrating that he has the ability to help people achieve their goals, whether they're going to be clinicians, principal investigators or translational scientists," he says. Perhaps the most telling anecdote about Dr. Scadden, Dr. Attar relates, is the time he was called to consult on one of Dr. Scadden's former HIV patients who had suffered from AIDS-related malignancies before the advent of highly-active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART). The patient told Dr. Attar that he had had many doctors over the years, but that Dr. Scadden stood head and shoulders above the others as an outstanding physician and humanitarian.

Like his mentor, Dr. Attar labors both in the clinic and at the bench. He and Dr. Scadden, along with colleagues, have set up the leukemia sample bank containing hundreds of leukemic bone marrow samples to further aid translational research. In addition, Dr. Attar is interested in developing clinical trials to test new leukemia treatments and says his first trial is ongoing at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Attar's wife, Dr. Amy Colson, is an HIV doctor and the couple has two children: four- year-old Talia and two-year-old Avi.