Renuka Iyer, MD, is Professor of Oncology, Co-Director of the Liver and Pancreas Tumor Center and Section Chief for Gastrointestinal Oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. She describes her longstanding relationship with NANETS as instrumental in helping Roswell Park become a hub of neuroendocrine research and treatment in the northeast. She also credits her membership with building her NET network and influencing the careers of many of her fellows and colleagues.

“In 2012 we held the first NANETS regional education conference at Roswell Park, with Eric Liu and George Fisher as presenters," said Dr. Iyer. 

With more than 70 people from the area in attendance, the conference allowed Dr. Iyer’s NET team at Roswell to boost its regional presence as a NET research and treatment center. Dr.Iyer points out that Roswell Park is the only facility between Boston and Ohio to have a NET center. Prior to her involvement with NANETS and participating in its educational conferences, Roswell was not known by many people as a center for endocrine care.

“In terms of measured growth, in 2012 we also did a patient symposium and we have done six annual programs since then, with more than 100 people in attendance at each event," said Iyer. 

Dr. Iyer credits her longstanding membership in NANETS with helping to expand NET awareness and motivate early career professionals to focus on neuroendocrine tumor disease, noting that, at a recent regional program, two of her former fellows returned as speakers. One of them, Dr. Hatoum is now in practice at Stevenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma and he is building a NET program there.

As much as Dr. Iyer has gained from her NANETS membership, she has given back to the society in varous capacities. She was recently elected to serve on NANETS’ nominating committee, a two-year position. She has also served on the regional conference organizing committee, where she invited Dr. Hatoum to host the first regional conference in Oklahoma and she served as one of the speakers.

She also spoke at another regional conference hosted by Rutgers University. A former colleague from Roswell, Dr. Malhotra had moved to New Jersey and Dr. Iyer persuaded her to host a regional conference there and serve as a Course Director. During that event, Dr. Iyer connected with the renowned Dr. James Yao and several advisory boards and pharma boards, sharing with them details of work being done by NANETS throughout North America. As a result of these connections, Dr. Iyer was asked to be one of the voices on Novartis’ website and on its new app, “Galaxy of Hope.” Dr. Yao recently recruited one of her graduating fellows, Dr. Lee, to join his GI/ NET group.

For Dr. Iyer, one of the most exciting outcomes of her involvement in NANETS is the impact she and her colleagues have had on the careers of young medical professionals.

“Hassan Hatoum, who was a fellow at Roswell Park and is now at Stephenson Cancer Center, mentored a young fellow, Sarbajit Mukherjee, who fell in love with NETs. Dr. Mukherjee joined me as a faculty member here this past year.”

He is also applying for a Young Investigator award. Dr Iyer adds that one of Hassan’s fellows, Hussein Assi, is going to Stanford, where he will focus on NETs. “It is amazing to see a young fellow speak at NANETs and go on to devote his career to NETs.”

Another colleague, Ahmad Hanif, worked with Dr. Iyer on a research grant funded by NETRF, and he was instrumental in doing the background work, enabling him to present his poster during the 2018 symposium. Dr. Iyer is hopeful that he will continue to partner with her on future studies looking at immune vaccines in NETs, an area that has not yet been well studied in this disease. This particular vaccine was developed by a neurosurgeon at Roswell Park and targets an anti-apoptosis protein-survivin.

Dr. Iyer sees her association with NANETS for firmly establishing her in the NET medical community. As a result, she has met Pinaki Sarder, an engineer in the field of computational pathology who is currently working on using artificial intelligence as a tool for better classifying NET tumors. She will partner with him as he continues this important work and they plan to apply for more grants through NANETS and AACR to build upon the work.

Dr. Iyer's NANETS relationship has helped in bringing more patients into Roswell Park, also introducing her to many patient advocacy groups, including NCAN, where she spoke at the annual meeting.

Perhaps one of the most exciting and ambitious initiatives is the establishment of the Neuroendocrine Tumor Biobank at Roswell Park. In a recent article written by Dr. Iyer, she discusses the challenges of studying rare cancer types and the limited number of cases available to advance understanding of the disease. The objective of the biobank is to assemble the nation’s largest collection of NET cases, including biospecimens and patient medical and lifestyle information.

“Then we can finally begin to get some answers to our questions about neuroendocrine tumors, such as: What are the risk factors? What makes this cancer grow or spread? And, how can we treat it more effectively.” 

Collecting information and biospecimens from even 5% of the estimated 170,000 people in the U.S currently living with NET cancers would speed NET-focused research and lead to new treatment advances.

Since 2010, when Dr. Iyer first became involved in NET research and treatment, Roswell Park has come full circle.

'With two grants for novel trials, a NET biobank, six patient events at Roswell held annually and nearly 1000 patients/MDs/Net providers reached, we have come far."

With the networking and relationships built among national leaders and pharmaceutical partners, she is now seeing the next generation of NET leaders being trained and recruited to continue this work.