December 18, 2015 | by City of Hope
Cancer Control and Population Sciences
Thomas Slavin, M.D., trained at the University of South Florida where he earned his undergraduate degree in biology followed by his medical degree. He subsequently pursued residencies in both pediatrics (Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, University Hospitals of Cleveland) and medical genetics (Center for Human Genetics, University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University). He additionally completed a board certification in molecular diagnostics through the American Board of Clinical Chemistry. During this period, he became particularly interested in the rapid advances in genetic sequencing and the newfound ability to make detailed molecular diagnoses on individuals. He wanted to better understand how to use this new powerful information to reduce or remove disease burden in the affected individual and their family. At the time of his graduation from medical school in 2010, our country was at the peak of its recession, and there were only a few openings nationwide for clinical geneticists – one was on the island of Oahu, Honolulu, Hawai`i. It was an easy life decision, and he and his wife moved to the island state that harbors some of the most beautiful spots in the world, such as Hanauma Bay and Waimanalo Beach. Slavin there held the position of assistant professor of pediatrics at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and was a clinical geneticist through Kapi`olani Medical Specialists. He also became a proficient long boarder and honed his basketball skills in the University of Hawaii medical school league. In August 2014, on the very day he was promoted to associate professor, Slavin decided to move to City of Hope, which afforded him the outstanding support, resources, environment and mentorship needed to advance as a physician scientist. He currently serves as an assistant professor in the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research.
Slavin’s interests in medical genetics developed at an early stage in his career. In a collaboration involving Drs. Tao Feng, Audrey Schnell, Xiaofeng Zhu, and Robert C. Elston in Cleveland, he evaluated molecular markers associated with coronary artery disease and hypertension. To determine whether gene variations — such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) — were connected to these diseases, the team performed genome-wide association studies. This kind of study typically involves statistically assessing the link between the disease state and a single SNP. It has been successful by covering the entire human genome and genotyping a huge number of SNPs. However, one limitation of the single marker strategy is the relative lack of power to find associations. To address this, the group applied multiple marker testing by examining two SNPs simultaneously. By looking at two markers instead of one, more information was ascertained through statistical approaches, which can be used to detect previously unidentified disease targets. In this way, the group identified new, associated variants for both coronary artery disease and hypertension. SNPs in three genes exhibited genome wide significance for coronary artery disease and SNPs in five genes for hypertension.
Since moving to City of Hope, Slavin has been collaborating with Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., and Susan Neuhausen, Ph.D., to develop new tools for assessing hereditary cancer predisposition. The research was recently awarded funding by STOP CANCER, an organization dedicated to advancing young investigators involved in cutting-edge cancer research. Slavin and the team are looking for new hereditary susceptibility markers for pancreatic and gastric cancer by sequencing patients with large family histories of cancer with no known current explanation. The endeavor will leverage the large hereditary cancer registry (data on over 14,000 families) developed by Weitzel at City of Hope. In addition to identifying genes linked pancreatic and gastric cancers, Slavin will also develop a panel of hereditary genes that predispose to colorectal cancer. This panel will be used to 1) better categorize individuals at risk for hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome (i.e., Lynch syndrome); and 2) screen underserved Hispanic population for Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis syndrome and attenuated forms of hereditary polyposis. Slavin and Weitzel were also recently awarded a two-year grant from the Oxnard Foundation to study hereditary predisposition to colorectal cancer.
In addition to these studies, Slavin is involved in clinical and teaching components of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics. Each week, he sees multiple patients with a hereditary predisposition to cancer. He often works with breast cancer patients in conjunction with a genetic counselor, and most of the patients are involved with the division’s large hereditary registry, which includes over 1,000 patients with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. Slavin’s clinical work with hereditary cancer patients includes using the family history and genetic information to inform testing and make treatment plans for patients and their families.
Slavin teaches a component of City of Hope’s Intensive Course in Cancer Assessment. Developed 16 years ago by Weitzel and Kathleen Blazer, Ed.D., M.S., L.C.G.C., the webinar-based course teaches clinicians to practice genetic cancer risk assessments. The course, which trains participants in cancer genetics and genomics, also establishes a Web-based community of graduates who meet online weekly: the Clinical Cancer Genetics Community of Practice. The community is comprised of over 500 national and international physicians, genetic counselors, and Ph.D.s who have taken this course. Members of the community can attend a weekly webinar conference to present and discuss clinical cases from around the world. Slavin participated in this exceptional course upon joining City of Hope in 2014; and he recently taught the genodermatose module in cancer. He looks forward to continuing his involvement in teaching and training more clinicians in genetic cancer risk assessment and in making substantial contributions to the clinical and research arms of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics.
Slavin TP, Niell-Swiller M, Solomon I, Nehoray B, Rybak C, Blazer KR, Weitzel JN. 2015. Front Oncol. 5:208.
Slavin TP, Zaidi SJ, Neal C, Nishikawa B, Seaver LH. 2014. Clinical presentation and positive outcome of two siblings with holocarboxylase synthetase deficiency caused by a homozygous L216R mutation. JIMD Rep. 12:109-14.
Rocha FG, Slavin TP, Li D, Tiirikainen MI, Bryant-Greenwood GD. 2013. Genetic associations of relaxin: preterm birth and premature rupture of fetal membranes. Am J Obstet Gynecol 209(3):258. Cover article for issue.
Scollon S, McWalter K, Abe K, King J, Kimata K, Slavin TP. 2012. Haploinsufficiency of STK11 and neighboring genes cause a contiguous gene syndrome including Peutz-Jeghers phenotype. Am J Med Genet A 158A(11):2959-62.
Slavin TP, Feng T, Schnell A, Zhu X, Elston RC. 2011. Two-marker association tests yield new disease associations for coronary artery disease and hypertension. Hum Genet 130(6):725-33.
Slavin TP, Wiesner GL. 2009. Developmental defects and childhood cancer. Curr Opin Pediatr 21(6):717-23.
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