Interview series

Theofilos Poutahidis, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Interview with Theofilos Poutahidis, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Date: 15.01.2016

Location: Thessaloniki, Greece

Short Bio Theofilos Poutahidis graduated from School of Veterinary Medicine, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh) and did his PhD in veterinary pathology at the same institution. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Division of Comparative Medicine, MIT. Since 2002 he is faculty in the Laboratory of Veterinary Pathology, AUTh, where currently holds the position of Associate Professor. His work focuses on the tumor microenvironment. One important aspect of his research is, how certain gastrointestinal bacteria affect carcinogenesis.

YAAC: Dr. Poutahidis thank you very much for making time for this Interview. Some cancer researchers might work with animal models. From a veterinarian’s perspective: how important is the cooperation of doctors and vets in this field?

Dr. Poutahidis: You’re raising a very important issue here. Cancer research demands the collaboration of scientists from many different fields. Learning how to perform a diagnostic method or a laboratory technique doesn’t make you an expert, and good science is based on experts. In my opinion, when the research involves animals, veterinarians should always be involved. And I am not only talking about their regulatory role. I am talking about collaboration at the purely scientific level of animal model selection, animal handling and treatment, analysis and interpretation of results etc. If we have meaningful animal research we could also reach an acceptable level of translatability in human medicine practice. The bedside of our fellow human beings is the ultimate goal of biomedical research. Let’s never forget that. The benefit of human patients will then translate back to animal patients and benefit them as well.

YAAC: There were surely moments in your career, which sustained your perseverance or even led to a turning point. What was the most exciting one?

Dr. Poutahidis: Well, every time we discover something fundamental, such as a new biological phenomenon is a very exciting moment. If I had to choose one moment though… It was back in 2002 at DCM/MIT. I was examining the histopathology of mouse colonic tissue from experiments we were performing back then. I saw under the microscope evidence that confirmed our scientific hypothesis. Immunodeficient Rag2 knockout mice, when infected with the gastrointestinal murine bacterium Helicobacter hepaticus, develop invasive colorectal cancer. The moment that I shared this result with the PI of the study Suzan Erdman must have been really exciting, since we were both jumping up and down like children in the main hallway of the Division. This was the beginning of a line of research that continuous until today. This research examines the link between gastrointestinal bacteria and systemic effects that influence the risk of carcinogenesis throughout the body.

YAAC: How did you cope with the hard times during your career?

Dr. Poutahidis: The difficulties can be multi-faced, but there is only one way to cope with them. Not giving up. Consult with experienced people who have proven their value and wisdom and friendship. Think with a clear mind and as rationally as possible. If after that you still think is worth it, you have no other option than to persist. Your persistence though should be calm rather than aggressive.

YAAC: Are there any abilities that a young researcher should possess or develop for their work?

Dr. Poutahidis: There are of course some standard skills, which are being taught by every experienced researcher to their younger colleagues. And there are also qualities that are by large innate, such as being passionate and innovative and able of both synthetic and analytic scientific thinking. You should be able to collect and analyze details without losing the broader picture.

YAAC: …Last but not least: You have a reputation as a good teacher. Would you like to give some advice to the freshmen in cancer research?

Dr. Poutahidis: Cancer is a chaotic disease-with the mathematical meaning of the term. Therefore, young researchers will have to learn to respect this and take it into in account when performing research. Cancer cannot be approached with arrogance. Despite our technological advances and progress, cancer remains a major killer of the human kind. Cancer is comprised of a genetically unstable population of cells that proliferate at an extraordinarily high rate. Millions of cancer deaths each year make it obvious that the battle against cancer is asymmetric, with human kind often being the weaker element. To date, cancer research efforts directly confront malignancy on its own terms. Is it about time to be smarter in our battle against cancer? How can we do that? You young cancer researchers will be the generation that will have to seek the answer to this question.

YAAC: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck with your future work!

(This interview was conducted by Despina Trouli on behalf of the Young Alliance Against Cancer)

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