Dr. Malachi Griffith uses the latest computational and genomics tools to customize cancer treatment. He is one 16 speakers that will present at the GSC’s 20th Anniversary Symposium, November 21, 2019. 

Malachi GriffithAt the beginning of his undergraduate degree, two of Dr. Malachi Griffith’s family members were diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, he lost his mother to breast cancer. His brother, on the other hand, survived Ewing Sarcoma through surgical intervention, chemotherapy and treatment by world-renowned oncologists. These experiences motivated him to pursue a career in cancer research.

“I saw this incredible dichotomy between when treatment fails a cancer patient and when it saves their lives,” says Dr. Griffith, “this inspired me to pursue cancer research.”

When Dr. Griffith and his twin brother Dr. Obi Griffith began their journey to becoming cancer researchers as undergraduate biology students, they became interested in genomics and how it could be applied to the study of cancer.

 “We were basically computer nerds that did biology degrees,” says Dr. Griffith, “I wanted to apply my interest in computational and statistical techniques to high-throughput biology.”

After completing his undergraduate degree, Dr. Griffith was hired as a computational biologist to do sequence analysis for Dr. Marco Marra. The innovations in bioinformatics and computational techniques drew him to the GSC, but its close connection with BC Cancer motivated him to stay for his PhD.

With both wet- and dry-lab components to his PhD, Dr. Griffith was fortunate to gain experience in many aspects of cancer genomics: from experimental design, wet-lab sample preparation, microarrays and eventually Next-Generation sequencing, computational analysis of the data and finally back to wet-lab techniques for data validation.

Dr. Griffith is now an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Assistant Director of the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine. His research is focused on cancer genomics and bioinformatics, broadly applying computational techniques to profile tumours and to influence patient care. His group is involved in several clinical trials involving personalized cancer vaccines. By sequencing patient tumours, they identify unique somatic mutations that can be exploited to generate an anti-tumour immune response.

“Cancer vaccines are arguably one of the most personalized cancer treatments that exist,” says Dr. Griffith, “They are exquisitely tailored to each patient’s tumour. That is a pretty inspiring thing to be a part of.”

Dr. Griffith continues to work alongside his twin brother. Previously thinking they were fraternal twins, they did a 23andMe test when they were in their 30’s and discovered they were actually identical. Their shared genetics, educational background and close encounters with cancer have led to a productive and rewarding scientific partnership.

“We speak the same language to a degree that is virtually unparalleled between two individuals,” says Dr. Griffith.

He has published over 70 papers and has received numerous research awards and honours. He was profiled as an “up and coming” investigator by Genome Technology Magazine and was included in Wired Magazine’s “smart list”. He is an advocate for open source science and has led the development of several tools for bioinformatics research and education.

At the GSC’s upcoming 20th anniversary symposium, Dr. Griffith is looking forward to sharing his latest work on antigen characterization and personalized cancer vaccines.     

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