Research in Biomarkers for Bladder Cancer - The BCAN Young Investigator Awards - Benjamin Miron

February 11, 2022

Benjamin Miron, a 2021 recent recipient of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network's (BCAN) Young Investigator Award joins Alicia Morgans to speak about the Young Investigator Award Program. Dr. Miron speaks on the importance of this program and the opportunity it provides young investigators to jumpstart their careers. This funding Dr. Miron received helped to investigate new biomarkers for bladder cancer to more accurately assess for responses to treatments. Research that is pivotal to understanding key factors in the treatment and development of bladder cancer will help to develop novel approaches to evaluate and treat bladder cancer in the future.


Benjamin Miron, MD, Hematology/Oncology Fellow, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

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Alicia Morgans: Hi, my name is Alicia Morgans and I'm a geomedical oncologist at Dana-Farmer Cancer Institute. I am so excited to have here with me today, Dr. Ben Miron, who's a senior fellow at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Thank you so much for being here with me today.

Ben Miron: Thank you for having me.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. So I wanted to talk with you about the BCAN, or the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network's Young Investigator Award Program. And this is, I think, really of high interest to you and meaningful to you, because you're a recent recipient of the BCAN Young Investigator Award, I think just in the last year. So I'm wondering, can you tell me a little bit about the importance of this award to you? What it is, and what it means to you?

Ben Miron: So the BCAN YIA has been really important to me. It's the first award, significant award, I should say, that I've won. And really, the first award that's been able to sponsor, what I would consider, my first serious research project that was of my own making and with the guidance of my mentors. And I think that for people like me who want to have a career as investigators or scientists, it's really important to find a way to get started. And the BCAN YIA, for me, has offered me that opportunity to get my first jumpstart. And I think that, in the current climate of NIH funding, it's pretty difficult to get started for early career scientists. And so I'm so grateful for this organization that has this opportunity available to people like me. Who really need to collect some initial data so that we could put together a reasonable NIH grant. And so, for me, this has really led me down that path. And given me that opportunity to do something that I thought was interesting, and really supporting financially for the materials that we need, and also, for my time.

Alicia Morgans: That's great. And just for all who are listening, the BCAN Young Investigator Awards are awarded to fund salary, to fund science. But are really directed at individuals who are junior in their careers. And individuals who want to focus on urothelial cancers, bladder cancers, for their projects, for their investigation, and hopefully, for their careers. And it's meant to bring these junior investigators into the BCAN fold so that they can continue to thrive. And give some of their brain power and their expertise to the study of urothelial and other bladder cancers for, hopefully, a long, long time. So Ben, I'd love to hear, from your view, about your project. What was it that made it special? And what are you hoping to learn and to bring to the field of bladder cancer?

Ben Miron: So one of my primary research interests is in the study of biomarkers. And I'm working on a project that I proposed, that's studying samples from patients who have muscle invasive bladder cancer. And the setting that we're looking at is really that first initial curative setting. And we know that patients who have muscle invasive bladder cancer have the best chance at a long-term survival, if they get chemotherapy, if they're eligible for it, and then surgery. But we also know that a decent proportion of patients have a good response to chemotherapy, not everyone. And that's why it's important for us to try to figure out who those patients might be. We know that it's approximately somewhere between 30% and 40%. But we don't really have a good way to figure out who that is until patients already, really, have surgery and the bladder gets looked at. And we can make a real, accurate determination of how well they did with chemotherapy.

So given that surgery is a difficult thing to go through for patients, we would love to be able to say to certain patients, "Maybe you don't need surgery now." Or, "Maybe you don't need surgery in the future." But we don't really feel comfortable doing that without good confidence that we can accurately assess their individual prognosis with, hopefully, a biomarker. And so this project is looking at using ctDNA with a novel methodology that's sensitive and, hopefully, very specific. And will allow us to, hopefully, find a correlation between the presence or absence of ctDNA and residual disease, or stuff that's left over in the bladder after chemotherapy. And we're also going to compare that biomarker to survival data as well and see how well it stands up.

So the hope, for this project, is really to characterize ctDNA in this setting, using this slightly different approach. And the hope in the future is that it might be useful for redefining treatment paradigms for certain patients. But that's not really the direct test of this project.

And then, in addition, we're going to look at some other correlative studies to see what we can learn about the disease biology that's associated with the presence of circulating tumor DNA. And that'll be a preliminary step towards, hopefully, another study that we'll be able to get done.

Alicia Morgans: That's great. And I really love the way that your project is focusing on short-term goals now. But then also, focusing on collecting preliminary data that can be used and leveraged in future grant applications. Which, of course, is one of the goals of the BCAN Young Investigator Award Program. So as you think about yourself, your career trajectory, and the way that you're now a part of the BCAN community, what would your advice be to people who are considering submitting their Young Investigator Award proposals by February 22nd into the portal?

Ben Miron: I would say that you made a very good point about trying to define a project that is achievable within the confines of the award. And hopefully, leads you down a path that you could explore further. So I think you really said it really, really well. I tried to make this project finishable within a year, which is always tough. And so we had the proposal structured so that made sense that way. And I think that would be some advice that I would give somebody who was applying. And I leaned heavily on my mentors, Dr. Plimack is my primary mentor. And there are a lot of amazing people at Fox Chase that were available to me to talk about the project, and poke holes in my application, when I first was working on it. So if you have the opportunity, I would say, try to start early, to give people an opportunity to read it. And those comments helped me in ways that I didn't really think about at first, elements of grantsmanship, I suppose, that I haven't had a lot of experience with.

Alicia Morgans: Well, I think that sounds perfect. Start early, get good mentors. And whatever you do, make sure you apply because if you don't apply, you certainly can't get it. So thank you so much for taking the time, and congratulations again on your award.

Ben Miron: Thank you so much for having me, and to BCAN for funding this award.