Member Spotlight: Panieh Terraf

1. What is your name?
Panieh Terraf, PhD

2. What is your professional title?
Assistant Faculty Member, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Assistant Attending, Department of Pathology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

3. How did you decide to enter the field/what (or who) brought you into the field?
It was during the third year of my doctorate studies that I had one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I started volunteering at a pediatric cancer center that provided comprehensive support for underserved children with cancer. It was my first time being exposed to the world of oncology. At the outset, I didn’t know that the majority of children with cancer could indeed survive this devastating disease if diagnosed and treated early. This insight and the ineluctability of those little hands with their big dreams inspired me to pursue a career focused on finding new methods for the diagnosis of cancer. To fulfill this goal, I took a post-doctoral position focused on the genomics of pediatric glioblastoma. As I delved deeper into the realm of translational medicine, I was fascinated by how the understanding of genomic variation could be rapidly translated to the diagnosis and treatment of disease in a manner tailored to individual patients. I came to understand how new technologies, such as next generation sequencing, and sophisticated analytical tools were decreasing the gap between research and clinic. This ignited a passion in me that could no longer be fulfilled with basic research alone. I wanted to be on the cutting edge of genomic medicine, at the very junction of where bench and bedside meet: the clinical laboratory.

4. What do you do?How would you describe your role?
As a medical geneticist I specialize in cancer genome diagnostics and the accurate clinical interpretation of complex cytogenetic and molecular results. My clinical responsibility primarily involves the interpretation of molecular test results to screen for and diagnose hereditary cancers. I work closely with oncologists and pathologists to help guide patient-personalized care by understanding inherited genomic alterations and their implications in the screening, diagnosis, and management of cancer.

5. What degree(s) and/or training did you receive to achieve your position?
B.Sc. in Molecular Biology, M.Sc. in Molecular Genetics, Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics, Postdoctoral training in Neurogenomics, ABMGG Fellowship in Laboratory Genetics and Genomics (Clinical Molecular Genetics + Clinical Cytogenetics).

6. What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?
Balancing time between clinical duties, research and committee work! If only there were more hours in a day.

7. What is the best part of your work as you see it? (most interesting, most fun…)
For me as a junior faculty who is just starting to build her career, working at MSK with it’s truly collegial atmosphere and being surrounded by world-class experts in the field of oncology at the forefront of innovative research and having so many institutional and collaborative opportunities for clinical and translational research, makes going to work each day enjoyable and exciting. Moreover, having the privilege to partake in providing exceptional patient-personalized care is extremely gratifying and humbling.

8. What do you do for fun?
When asked in school what I wanted to be when I grow up, I always had two answers: Either a geneticist or a chef. So, when I’m not at work practicing cancer genetics, my absolute favorite thing to do is cooking different cuisines! Also, New York City has so much to offer and when time allows, I enjoy exploring the city with my husband and taking photos.

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