RTOG Foundation New Investigator Spotlight: Leila Tchelebi, MD
May 04, 2023
Leila Tchelebi, MD was recently selected as an RTOG Foundation New Investigator Spotlight due to her various accomplishments and ongoing efforts in the oncology community. Dr. Tchelebi is an Assistant Professor of Radiation Medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. She has an interest in both gastrointestinal (GI) oncology and radiation therapy quality. Dr. Tchelebi has developed quite a presence in the GI oncology community through her efforts growing the Penn State University Cancer Institute’s GI program during her tenure there, prior to her current career at Northwell. She is a member of the American Radium Society (ARS) GI Committee where she has had the opportunity to collaborate on many national guidelines for the management of GI malignancies, as well authored manuscripts regarding the treatment of GI malignancies. In addition to her work in GI oncology, Dr. Tchelebi is a member of the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO) Multi-disciplinary Quality Assurance Committee. She is a member of the NRG Oncology GI Committee as well as a member of the NRG Early Career & New Investigators Committee. Currently, at Northwell, Dr. Tchelebi has had the opportunity to combine her experiences with GI oncology and RTQA and even presented at ASTRO’s 2021 annual meeting on the RTOG 0848 clinical study results.
Q: What kind of research are you currently engaged with?
A: My research has focused primarily on improving the treatment of patients with gastrointestinal malignancies both through original investigations into optimal therapies for these patients and through improving the quality of care they receive. One of the foundations of high-quality cancer care is through the standardization of treatment approaches. Thus, I have collaborated on many national guidelines aimed at standardizing therapy for patients with gastrointestinal cancers, including patients with gastric cancer, esophageal cancer, and extrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma. I have also worked on performing the quality assurance analyses of 2 large cooperative group trials (RTOG 0848 and Alliance A021501), both in the pancreatic cancer space, aimed at improving the quality of radiation therapy delivered to patients.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regard to your research/career?
A: My proudest accomplishment is the relationships I have formed with other members of the oncology community who have also dedicated their careers to improving the care of patients with gastrointestinal cancer. Successful inter-disciplinary collaborations is critical to making progress in the field of oncology. Developing lasting relationships with my mentors and fellow GI radiation oncologists is my proudest accomplishment because it will allow me to continue growing and pushing the field forward more so than any one work or research endeavor.
Q: What are you most interested in achieving through your research/career?
A: I am most interested in better defining the role of radiation therapy in the management of patients with pancreatic cancer. Through improved standardization of cooperative group trials, we can succeed in identifying which patients would benefit most from radiation therapy and also learn what radiation approach is best for these patients. Given my strong belief in collaboration, pooling patient data nationally through shared registries and health learning networks, such as the Canopy Cancer Collective, will better inform future clinical trial designs, including those run by the RTOG/NRG. Health learning networks and cross-institutional collaborations will also assist with clinical trial accrual, which can be slow, particularly for the less common GI cancers.
Q: What inspired you to become involved in cancer research and/or specifically your field?
A: In every aspect of my life, I continually seek to make improvements and to grow. Research provides an outlet to improve and drive forward the field of oncology and provides me with an outlet to grow professionally. Research involves teamwork and has allowed me to expand my network of colleagues and friends, which is highly rewarding. My mentors, who are among the leading experts in the field of gastrointestinal radiation oncology and are part of the NRG community, ignited my enthusiasm for GI oncology and quality. I hope to one day pass on the expertise and enthusiasm I have gained from them to the next generations of researchers
Q: What has been your experience engaging in the Radiation Oncology community and with RTOGF?
A: As a member of the RTOG non-colorectal core committee, I have had the opportunity to contribute to the development of novel clinical trial ideas to advance the field forward. It has been an honor to brainstorm ideas with other experts in the field and to learn from past successes and failures to optimize the design of future clinical trials aimed at defining the role of RT in managing patients with non-colorectal GI primaries. As a member of the New Investigator Committee, I am working on a clinical trial of dose-escalated radiation therapy in the adjuvant setting for patients with pancreatic cancer following an R1 or R2 resection to hopefully improve outcomes for these patients. I was recently selected to participate in the NRG Oncology Early Career & New Investigators (ECNI) Mentored Fellowship Program for 2023-2024 to continue my work on this project with formal mentorship from the NRG, for which I am very thankful. Mentorship from members of the RTOG/NRG community is instrumental in guiding me through the process of developing clinical trials and conducting research to improve the lives of cancer patients.