After Dr. Weidhaas co-discovered the KRAS-variant with biologist Frank Slack back in 2008, she sought out to use this newfound genetic marker of cancer risk to dramatically change how we personalize cancer therapy. From this goal was born MiraDx, a genomics company dedicated to providing patients and physicians with actionable information to take charge of their health. With the knowledge of one’s own KRAS-variant status, doors are opened to better managing cancer risk through MiraKind. At MiraDx, the team is applying this type of new information to help patients and their doctors make informed treatment decisions.
Jean Reiss and Mattias Pitka, who began working at MiraDx back in 2015 and a few months ago, respectively, are members of the MiraDx research team and both share a keen interest for the direction in which cancer treatment and management is headed. “What’s most exciting is that this model is a complete paradigm shift from how we’ve traditionally thought of cancer treatment. In essence, we’ve been looking at cancers as a foreign invader that we need to expel from the body and all our treatments are based on cancer type,” explains Mattias. “But what we’re doing at MiraDx is pivoting from being focused on the disease to being focused on the patient and providing the tools to personalize each individual’s treatment based on how they would respond to certain drugs.” MiraDx is part of a huge effort by physicians, drug companies, health insurance agencies and researchers to continue this shift and redefine the way we think about cancer treatment.
Get to know more about Jean and Mattias below!
1. Was there a particular moment—whether a previous job, class or experience—that made you want to pursue research?
“I was a Licensed Vocational Nurse for a few years and I worked at UCLA’s Pediatric and Medical Oncology unit. I have seen how cancer has taken beautiful people’s lives away. So I returned to Cal State University Dominguez Hills to study Biological Sciences and medical technology. I have always been interested in the diagnostic aspect of laboratory testing and I believe an accurate diagnosis in a clinical laboratory helps patients receive the best treatments available for their disease and improve their health and quality of life.” –Jean
“My background is in clinical laboratory science, so my entire academic and professional career has been centered on clinical practice or research in some form. I started my first research work as an assistant with the physics department at Texas Tech University studying the nano-mechanics of prostate and breast cancer cells. After that I did research through Memorial Sloan Kettering on the quality of life outcomes for patients with hepatobiliary tumors.” –Mattias
2. How did you get to where you are today?
“I have been fortunate to work for well known Genetic experts and pioneers at UCLA Molecular Diagnostics Laboratories. Dr. Richard Gatti is renowned in the ATM (Ataxia-Telangectasia Mutation) protein testing for ATM gene and related DNA Repair genes. Dr. Wayne Grody is a pioneer in establishing genetic testing as part of molecular diagnostic testing for patients with genetic diseases. I had the opportunity to participate in the preparation and set-up for the laboratory for clinical Whole Exome testing using Illumina Technologies for genetic diseases. The advancements of the laboratory field are leading health industries to be more personalized and develop rapid diagnostic techniques for patients. It’s rewarding to be part of the current advancements.” –Jean
“Mostly serendipity. I’ve tested the waters in multiple industry segments (hospital, private business, management) and have found that the only thing that keeps me consistently engaged is clinical work – particularly scientific research. I come in and I don’t feel like what I do is a ‘job’ because I truly enjoy it.” –Mattias
3. What is the focus of your research?
“Currently, we’re looking at using our genetic biomarkers to identify patients with a pre-disposition to cancers and treatment determination.” –Mattias
4. Describe a typical day in the lab.
“It’s really more dynamic of an environment than one may think. Depending on the volume of specimen, a day can range from extracting and analyzing a patient’s genes, to reading up on current literature, to more operational improvement and regulatory inspection.” –Mattias
5. What do you find most interesting about the research you are conducting?
“It’s most interesting to be able to find the best treatment options for cancer patients using our current combination of SNP assays.” –Jean
“What’s most exciting is that this model is a complete paradigm shift from how we’ve traditionally thought of cancer treatment. In essence, we’ve been looking at cancers as a foreign invader that we need to expel from the body and all our treatments are based on cancer type, but what we’re doing at Mira is pivoting from being focused on the disease to being focused on the patient and providing the tools to personalize each individual’s treatment based on how they would respond to certain drugs.” –Mattias
6. What is your favorite memory or contribution you have made to the team?
“Well, I’ve only been here a short time, but I think what’s most remarkable about the team in general is the sheer passion and tenacity that everyone brings to the mission. It really is a David vs. Goliath story – trying to completely shift how the industry thinks of this illness and treatment – and nobody is at all deterred from the challenge.” –Mattias
7. What are your hopes for the future of cancer therapy and/or research?
“Cancers have complicated mechanisms and there are new cancer therapy options such as Targeted Immunotherapies. I hope that future cancer therapy will be more specific and apply multi-faceted cutting edge technologies, using the best combinations such as gene therapy and stem cell therapy to treat and regenerate replacement cells.” –Jean
“As we learn more about the role our own genes play in the development of cancer, I hope to one day see the ability to transition from having to treat cancer to being able to identify it early on and take preventive measures. My hopes are that one-day getting a cancer diagnosis becomes as mundane as getting the common cold because of how good we’ll be at treating it. –Mattias
8. What do you enjoy most about working with Joanne?
“I admire her spirit in pursuing better technologies and treatment options for cancer patients.” –Jean
“Joanne is a very unique leader. Her drive and determination is truly contagious – she is relentless in the pursuit of her mission and vision, which just infects everyone and makes all of us want to work that much harder to achieve our goals. Of course, she is brilliant by all definition both medically as a physician and scientifically as a researcher, and yet she is one of the most ‘down-to-earth’ people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.” –Mattias