Terry Medler, Ph.D., assistant member at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, a division of Providence Cancer Institute of Oregon, can trace his penchant for science to his childhood. But it was at Johns Hopkins University, where he received his Master of Science degree and worked as a research technician with Irina Petrache, M.D., that his love of research took root. It was also during that time that Dr. Medler had a personal experience with cancer.
“While I was in Irina’s lab, my aunt was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It was personally devastating, and I knew I had to do something,” said Dr. Medler. He pursued his doctoral degree at Northwestern University in the laboratory of Charles Clevenger, M.D., Ph.D., where he studied the role of hormones in breast cancer. During that time, Dr. Medler’s mother was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Shortly after, his aunt lost her battle with the disease.
Personal experience motivates research
Driven to find answers, Dr. Medler’s interest in the role of the immune system in cancer development and treatment led him to his first postdoctoral fellowship with Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., at Oregon Health & Science University. In 2017, he received a postdoctoral fellowship at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute with Marka Crittenden, M.D., Ph.D., and Michael Gough, Ph.D., in the Integrated Therapies Lab where he continued his immunotherapy studies by focusing on ways to improve antigen-specific CD8+ T cell responses to cancer. CD8+ T cells (cytotoxic T lymphocytes or CTLs) are important for immune defense.
In 2021, Dr. Medler’s mother passed away due to ongoing complications from the chemotherapy she received 10 years earlier. The same year, Dr. Medler was awarded a Transition Career Development Award (K22) grant by the National Institutes of Health, which supports investigators in their transition to independent faculty positions. Shortly after, Dr. Medler became an assistant member at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute, leading the Innate Immunology Laboratory with a focus on the discovery of novel inflammatory pathways in cancer that are targets for therapeutic intervention.
“These experiences have helped focus my research on how to make traditional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation, as well as immunotherapies work better for a larger number of patients than is currently achievable,” he said.
At home at the institute and in Portland
Dr. Medler was drawn to Providence’s bench-to-bedside approach. “The biggest draw for a translational researcher is that the researchers in the lab are constantly in close contact with the physicians who treat patients. These discussions help keep our research focused on the clinically relevant questions and boost the likelihood of our research being translated to the clinic,” he said. “It truly brings a synergy that can’t be overstated.”
Dr. Medler also appreciates the way Providence is highly focused on cancer immunotherapy and draws on expertise from scientists with diverse backgrounds, including immunology, tumor biology, genetics, bioinformatics and bioengineering. “All with a highly collaborative spirit,” he said.
When Dr. Medler isn’t in the lab, he takes advantage of the Pacific Northwest culture and wilderness. He’s also an athlete and finds training to be useful for sorting out what he’s working on in the lab. “My husband and I are both triathletes, so I do a lot of thinking while running or biking around Portland…when I’m not focused on keeping up,” he said. “But we also enjoy backpacking, rafting and camping in the wilderness, which also offers plenty of time for reflection.”
To learn more about Dr. Medler's research, visit Innate Immunology Laboratory.