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Kevin Dalby, Professor at The University of Texas in Austin, Describes the Life of a Scientist and His Cancer Treatment Research

Originally published on

Dr. Kevin Dalby, you are a Professor of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy. Why did you decide to pursue your career?

I didn’t like high school very much, but I took to chemistry. It was the first thing I studied that I could use to make any sense of the world around me. I enjoyed reading literature, but the books we read at school were generally set in the past and didn’t seem relevant to me at the time. I would probably have a different perspective on that now, of course, because I am a little bit wiser than I was then.

I studied chemistry at the University of Leeds in England and was planning to try and do a Ph.D. in Australia. I met a career officer who told me to apply to Cambridge, which I had not considered before because it seemed a bit elitist. Anyhow, I found myself there studying for my Ph.D. and fell in love with the world of academic research. Things just progressed from there.

It’s wonderful that you love what you do. What does your typical day at work look like?

My day starts around 7–8. I dedicate the mornings to meetings and administrative duties. I keep the afternoons and evenings free to work on grant applications, manuscripts, and lectures.

What was your biggest professional breakthrough?

It was getting a job! When I started in graduate school, I realized that I wanted to continue in science and have my research laboratory. Back then, to get a job as a lecturer in a university in England, one had to work in the US for a while. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to stay in the US and work. I will never forget how lucky I felt getting a job over here.

And they are lucky to have you, Dr. Kevin Dalby. Tell us more about what your current research is focused on.

We are working to develop new drugs to treat a range of cancers, and we are trying to develop new diagnostic approaches to identify malignant tissue and to quantify changes within the tissue that could provide valuable information on what therapies to use.

What are some of the discoveries you would like to share?

We have discovered many things over the years, but I always consider our most recent discoveries our biggest. Last year we published a paper in Nature Communications describing a new way to potentially design drugs against an important therapeutic target in cancer cells called ERK. It is a protein kinase that transmits signals that helps cells to divide, and so it is used by cancer cells in nefarious ways. More recently, we identified a new way to measure how active it is in tumors, and a couple of years ago, we published a paper describing how it binds to a protein called Ets-1 to switch it on.

What would be an ideal outcome of the research?

I have a dream that one day we will be able to take a biopsy from an individual and very quickly determine what is wrong with them and how to treat them effectively.

Dr. Dalby, what does it take to become successful in your field?

Luck and perseverance.

This is a great answer. We are guessing that over the course of your successful career as a scientist, you’ve met many inspiring individuals. Who has had the most impact on you professionally?

As scientists, we don’t work in a vacuum. There are countless other scientists in the world disseminating their results for us to digest. There are journals that allow us to publish our work. There are also great companies that develop equipment and reagents. These products will enable us to design experiments we could not have dreamed of trying just ten years ago. There is also the public who ultimately are the ones that pay for most of the work we do either through taxes or donations to foundations. Beyond this, I have been lucky to work with and be taught by some of the best scientists in the world.

About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin. He the director of the Targeted Therapeutics Program (TTP). This program provides Texas scientists access to resources for drug discovery research. By understanding cancer cell signaling, Dr. Dalby works to make advances in the development of targeted pharmaceuticals for different cancers.