Meet our Chief Editor
Read our interview with the Chief Editor of Nature Cancer, Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou. Alexia discusses cancer and why it is a field very much close to her heart, what Nature Cancer plans to offer the cancer research community and her thoughts on some of the scientific issues surrounding cancer at the moment.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your early career path. Which university did you graduate from, what are your research interests and your background?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: I was born and raised in Greece and after finishing high school I moved to the UK for my undergraduate studies. I received my BSc in Molecular Biology from University College London and stayed in London to complete my PhD at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (CRUK LRI), which is now part of the Francis Crick Institute. I then moved to New York City to pursue my postdoctoral work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). After that, I joined the Nature Research journals as an associate editor.
My scientific background is in molecular and cell biology, more specifically on signaling pathways such as MAPK, Rho and TGF-beta/BMP. These signaling cascades control gene expression programs that drive essential cellular functions, including cell proliferation or growth arrest, cell shape and motility and cell fate. When these pathways become deregulated they can lead to cancer. So I would say that cancer biology is my first true love, but my research interests have always been varied. During my years in the lab, I always read around topics and developed a great interest in stem cell biology, epigenetics and immunology that only increased during my years as an editor.
Where are you joining Nature Cancer from? What inspired you to become the Chief Editor of Nature Cancer?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: I joined the Nature Research journals in 2010 as the cancer biology editor of Nature Cell Biology and became the Chief Editor of the journal in 2015. Honing my editorial skills and eventually leading a journal with such a rich and varied scope was an incredible experience. However, cancer research had always been the field closest to my heart and through my editorial work, I became even more immersed in this field. So when the opportunity arose to launch a new Nature Research journal that would be entirely dedicated to cancer research, I simply could not resist.
Why launch Nature Cancer now? Why do we need this journal?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. It is a complex biomedical problem with more than 200 different cancer types and genetic, environmental and behavioural factors at play. It is also a huge socioeconomic challenge with certain population groups affected more than others. To address this global health problem cancer research has expanded massively over the last decades encompassing multiple disciplines and creating a need in the community for a truly multidisciplinary journal. We are launching Nature Cancer in response to this community need – Nature Cancer embraces the spectrum of cancer research ranging from basic preclinical to translational and clinical work across the natural, applied and social sciences. We aim to publish research of the highest quality on how cancer forms and progresses, on innovative approaches to diagnose, target and prevent the disease and new ways to understand the societal impact of cancer.
What will Nature Cancer have to offer that will make it stand apart from other journals?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: Nature Cancer will be a truly interdisciplinary journal serving the wider cancer community in a unique way. It will provide cancer researchers with the latest, highest impact original research in the biomedical, physical and social sciences. But it will also offer a unique forum for researchers from different disciplines to synthesize distinct approaches and ideas, to discuss the most recent scientific advances and to contextualize them within the greater framework of cancer research and oncology in society.
Research on cancer has been ongoing for a long time, what breakthroughs have been made recently?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: We are lucky to live at a time when biomedical research is thriving. Immunotherapies have been added to the roster of effective treatment options for several cancers and together with targeted therapies are changing the lives of many patients. The advent of deep sequencing, single-cell technologies and liquid biopsies has changed the landscape of tumour molecular profiling in the lab and in the clinic. How we use big data to understand the disease and inform therapy options for the individual patient has also been changing rapidly, with machine learning approaches holding the potential to revolutionize data analysis for cancer screening and diagnosis. However, it is important to remember that advances in research do not occur as single, isolated events, but rather arise from a body of knowledge that builds over many years. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies are excellent examples of how understanding the fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms that lead to tumorigenesis and govern immune responses can result in the development and clinical translation of innovative treatment modalities.
We still have not found a cure for cancer, but are we closer in accurately diagnosing the difference between potentially lethal and non-lethal cancers?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: I think to talk about “a cure for cancer” creates the expectation of a single, magic bullet cure that will eradicate all cancers. Should such a cure be found, it would be a thrilling result, but cancer is a group of many diseases that present differently and are subject to extensive intra- and intratumor heterogeneity. This means that improving treatment requires an in-depth understanding of each tumour type taking into consideration the individual patient. Today we do know of specific cancer types that are intrinsically less aggressive, or less dangerous due to the availability of effective treatment modalities. However, cancer stage at the time of diagnosis remains a key factor in determining prognosis, meaning that early detection and improved screening are extremely important in diagnosing “lethal and non-lethal cancers” as you put it. To that I will add cancer prevention, with cervical cancer being a prominent example – early screening with the Pap test and more recently the addition of the HPV vaccine have been extremely effective making this one of the most preventable cancers.
What do you think are the biggest cancer research challenges facing our planet, and how will Nature Cancer address them?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: Cancer is a multifaceted, global health problem. On one hand, there are many different types of cancer characterized by evolution and heterogeneity, so it is imperative that we understand the molecular and biological underpinnings of the disease to identify and bring new and more effective treatments to the clinic. On the other hand, it is a disease of disparities – some groups of the population bear a disproportionate burden compared to others and it’s essential that we understand the genetic, cultural, socioeconomic, geographic and other factors that underlie these differences. Nature Cancer will address these challenges by publishing the highest quality and most impactful original research and commentary across the breadth of the cancer field, aiming to be a convening platform through which researchers across disciplines can stay informed and be inspired for further work and collaboration.
What are the trends of the future and advances to watch out for within this area?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: I hope that we will see advancements in cancer screening, prevention and early detection that will neutralize cancer as a health problem for many individuals. I mentioned previously the development and wider adoption of HPV vaccines as a preventative measure against cervical and other HPV-induced cancers and I hope that we will see more cancer prevention success stories. To that end I am also excited to see how harnessing big data and using artificial intelligence will advance cancer research. At a cancer biology level, I believe that the significant body of work on the interplay of genetic, micro- and macro environmental and behavioural factors will continue to build into a more integrated view of how different cancers develop and progress. I also expect exciting developments in the fields of targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Finally, I think that understanding and addressing cancer health disparities will continue to gain prominence to hopefully level the gradient of cancer screening and treatment across the population.
Can you describe what Nature Cancer means to you? What are you hoping to achieve with the journal and how do you see it developing?
Alexia-Ileana Zaromytidou: Being entrusted with launching a new Nature Research journal in an area as wide-ranging and as important as cancer research is a great privilege and a big responsibility. As cliché as it may sound, Nature Cancer is a labour of love. I don’t think I’ve worked more, or with more enthusiasm before in my life, and as the time to the journal’s launch approaches, I’m more and more excited about sharing our vision with our readers. The editorial team of the journal is very passionate about cancer research and science communication, and with Nature Cancer, we are aiming to provide a true home for cancer research - a journal that will address cancer as a global challenge and will inspire further interactions and collaboration through its pages.