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  • Writer's pictureVedant Parikh

Lab Notes on: Dr. Peter P. Lee

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Rebecca Zhang's notes on Dr. Peter P. Lee, a professor and researcher at City of Hope.

 

Dr. Peter P. Lee is a professor and researcher at City of Hope, a clinical research center, hospital, and graduate school in California. He obtained his medical degree at University of California San Diego and moved on to complete fellowships at Stanford University and University of California San Fransisco before finding a place and team at City of Hope as the chair of the Department of Immuno-Oncology. There, Dr. Lee’s scope of research focuses on the intersection between immunology (the study of the immune system) and oncology (the study of cancer).


For Dr. Lee, the appeal of immuno-oncology research stems not only from the complexity of the two fields but also the opportunity to help those in need. Cancer remains an exceptionally devastating and complicated illness with countless variations and many cases annually, but very few true cures. It is still a relatively novel field of study, and new advances are constantly being made, but the rate of progress is not yet fast enough to catch up with the rate of deaths. What Dr. Lee is researching is a connection between the immune system and cancer and how one’s immune system can be utilized to fight off the disease.


Cancer is widely recognized as a deadly disease, but it is really an umbrella term that has many variations. Cancer can develop in different parts of the body in the form of tumors, which occur when cells overdivide due to genetic mutation to oncogenes. There are two types of oncogenes: ones that stimulate cell division, which can be upregulated in cancer patients, and ones that inhibit cell division, which can be downregulated in cancer patients. Different cancers affect the body differently, and some tumors are benign, meaning they do not harm the body at all.

A hopeful path of exploration for Dr. Lee lies in immune checkpoints, components of the immune system that prevent immune responses from being too strong, and immune checkpoint inhibitors, antibodies that can block certain immune checkpoints. Research into these factors of the immune system is incredibly promising in terms of cancer treatment and has led to patients in the past being cured. Dr. Lee explained that these discoveries have also supported the notion that our immune systems have the inherent ability to control and even cure cancer; all that remains is finding a way to harness this ability.


To accomplish what he has been able to thus far, Dr. Lee works with a diverse team consisting of people from various disciplines. These people offer different perspectives, and Dr. Lee says he always finds himself learning from his team’s and partners’ insight. His favorite people to work with are the “go-getters”—the ones who take initiative and do not simply do what they are told. Research requires creativity and innovation, but despite the creation of ideas being Dr. Lee’s favorite part of the research process, it can also be one of the most challenging. Obtaining valuable input from collaborators is essential in the process of exceptional discovery.


Research can be a daunting endeavor, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Dr. Lee notes that it is important to, first and foremost, understand the current development level of one’s field and the extent of the literature available. He reflects that his area of research takes a step back from looking at just cancer and expands its view to the basis of all disease combat: the immune system. While others may be looking at the various parts of the disease, which is undeniably essential, Dr. Lee and those in his field of immuno-oncology analyze the totality of cancer in the body. Dr. Lee encourages aspiring researchers to think deeply and do something that may not follow the crowd or be considered normal. Though it is not always easy, diverging from the norm is how new discoveries are made.

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