Staying a Step Ahead

How Mary Bird Perkins geneticist-oncologist Victor Lin is working to outsmart cancer cells.

Very few people think about cancer like Victor Lin.

Dr. Victor LinArmed with both a Ph.D. in cellular biology and a degree in medicine, the geneticist-oncologist was hired by Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in September 2022 to lead both the cancer center’s recently expanded clinical research program and its genetic services clinic, where patients across the nine-site network can use information about their cancer’s genetic markers to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

Lin’s hire was an exciting one for Mary Bird Perkins, a 52-year-old community cancer center and the largest health care institution in the region focused solely on cancer care. It’s part of an ethos of excellence that has driven the cancer center to expand its geographic footprint and add top-notch technological, research, and treatment capabilities to its portfolio of services, said CEO Jonas Fontenot, Ph.D.

“Dr. Lin is a physician-scientist who comes to us with an unparalleled breadth and depth of knowledge in the areas of clinical research and precision medicine,” said Fontenot. “He is a much sought-after specialist who has had opportunities to practice at any facility in the country, but it was our focus on the patient-physician relationship that brought him to Mary Bird Perkins.”

Precision medicine is an exciting frontier in cancer treatment, says Lin, who plans to bring new clinical trial opportunities to Mary Bird Perkins patients.

“The classic way to treat cancer, as we know, has been through non-targeted chemotherapy that’s rather indiscriminate,” Lin said. “But now we’re able to look at the genetic sequence of these cancer cells and find out what actually drives them. Since every cancer is different, we’re able to better offer targeted therapies that are best tailored to each type. It’s a significant evolution, especially in certain types of cancer.”

Lin was previously an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology. While at UAB, he helped run the institution’s molecular tumor board, where he conducted genetic sequencing on individual tumors to learn more about the genetic underpinnings of cancer cells. Such research advances worldwide knowledge about how to target cancer treatment. He’ll continue this kind of research at Mary Bird Perkins.

While Lin likens the genetic study of cancer cells to a kind of research “wild west,” he says many advancements have already been made in some cancers, especially lung and breast. Scientists have identified a handful of consistent genetic subsets of lung cancer, for example, which has helped treatment advance from traditional chemotherapy to pills.

Lin and his team will work with Mary Bird Perkins physicians to explore how a patient’s specific form of cancer and genetic profile can inform treatment strategies. The goal is to pinpoint a precision treatment plan that has the best chance of success while minimizing collateral damage to healthy tissues.

Lin says that joining the team at Mary Bird Perkins means being on the front lines of cancer care in Louisiana, a state plagued by high cancer mortality rates and racial disparities in cancer care.

“There are tremendous opportunities here at Mary Bird Perkins for us to advance community cancer throughout the Gulf South,” Lin said. “What we’re studying right now means new treatments tomorrow.”