By Diane Kean, ASTRO Communications Manager
ASTRO Member-in-Training Mutlay Sayan, MD, was recently recognized as a 2020 STAT Wunderkind. Nominated by his mentor, Salma Jabbour, MD, Dr. Sayan was selected among thousands of nominees to join the honored group of “the most impressive doctors and researchers on the cusp of launching their careers, but not yet fully independent.” ASTRO recently sat down with Dr. Sayan and Dr. Jabbour to learn more about Dr. Sayan’s research, their mentorship and what lies ahead.
Dr. Sayan spent the first 11 years of his life on a family farm in a small village in Turkey, having no formal education and not knowing how to read or write. His father’s sudden cancer diagnosis launched the family to a new life in Istanbul, where all members of the family, including Dr. Sayan and siblings, worked in a factory to support their father’s cancer treatments. Persistence drove Dr. Sayan to fight for a position at the local school, where, at the age of 13, he began his formal education. As Dr. Jabbour stated in her nomination letter, “Dr. Sayan’s life and career demonstrate his commitment to taking maximum advantage of the opportunities that have been granted to him.” Fast forward 20 years and Dr. Sayan is now in his last year of residency in radiation oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
“After witnessing my father’s illness and premature death, it became my ambition to treat cancer,” said Dr. Sayan. “It was his treatment that first introduced me to radiation therapy. I was impressed by the opportunity that radiation afforded to personalize treatment for each patient.”
Dr. Sayan earned his BA and MD degrees at the University of Vermont, where he also began his research career. “There’s no greater evidence of Dr. Sayan’s commitment than in his devotion to research,” stated Dr. Jabbour in her nomination. Dr. Sayan has written and completed a clinical trial evaluating predictors of chronic fatigue in patients treated with partial brain radiation; results will emerge later this year after the last set of patient evaluations. Dr. Sayan also helped write and conduct a clinical trial of partial breast irradiation at the University of Vermont, which resulted in two important publications where Dr. Sayan is the first author.
Also, Dr. Sayan has worked with his department chair and 2020 Gold Medal recipient Bruce Haffty, MD, FASTRO, examining the acute cardiotoxicity in HER2-positive breast cancer patients treated with concurrent adjuvant hypofractionated radiation therapy and trastuzumab. The study findings demonstrate that the rate of acute cardiotoxicity in patients receiving concurrent trastuzumab and hypofractionated radiation therapy was low and was similar to the rate observed in patients receiving conventional radiation therapy. This study is important in that it clarified the safety of binding trastuzumab with adjuvant hypofractionated radiation therapy, previously a common concern for patients and oncologists.
Demonstrating his commitment to global health, Dr. Sayan is currently conducting research that examines Syrian refugees’ access to cancer therapy in Turkey. He received a grant from the ARRO-ASTRO Global Health Scholar Program for this project and spent two months in summer 2019 at the border between Turkey and Syria to collect the data.
Looking to future research endeavors, Dr. Sayan said, “While I have substantial experience with retrospective data and large databases, I envision that the next step in my career will be to advance my clinical skills through a variety of new modalities and technologies, as well as to embark on large prospective research and clinical trials. I also plan to continue pursuing research topics that incorporate quality of life outcomes.”
The value of mentorship cannot be underestimated. Dr. Jabbour and Dr. Sayan agreed that they have found the mentor-mentee relationship to provide academic fulfillment as well as friendship. They elaborated on how the mentor’s appreciation for the enthusiasm and potential of the mentee and the mentor’s guidance and support ultimately shape the trajectory of the mentee’s career. With shared goals and collaboration, the mentee benefits by improved productivity, clinical skills, medical knowledge and career preparation, for example, and both individuals benefit from the energy of this special relationship.
The STAT Wunderkinds award is sponsored by STAT News, produced by Boston Globe Media. STAT Wunderkinds are selected as the elite among the next generation of scientific leaders and include postdocs, residents and young scientists who are undertaking groundbreaking work and, as stated by STAT, “will be worth watching in the years to come.” Congratulations to Dr. Sayan! View the 2020 STAT Wunderkinds recipients.