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Faculty Spotlight: Katy Peters, MD, PhD

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

For Katy Peters, MD, PhD, helping people with primary brain tumors is all in a day’s work, whether that work involves treating patients directly, conducting research on potential new treatments, or educating the next generation of neurologists and neuro-oncologists. In this Faculty Spotlight interview she talks about what each of these responsibilities, her collection of more than 400 “swatch” watches, and building a steam engine out of eggshells in her 6th-grade science fair.

What are your responsibilities within the Department? What does a typical day for you look like?
I am one of the attending in neuro-oncology. I see patients on Mondays and Tuesdays. On the other days of the week, I am involved in clinical trial activities that include writing and implementing clinical protocols. While I am the principal investigator on treatment related trials for patients with primary brain tumors, my area of interest is supportive care in patients with primary brain tumors.  Additionally, I am the program director of the neuro-oncology fellowship.

What do you enjoy most about being a physician-scientist? What’s the biggest challenge involved with conducting research and providing clinical care?

For supportive care research, most of the projects are inspired by the situations and issues that patients and caregivers face on a day-to-day basis. Being able to identify situations and issues and coming up with potential solutions is very exciting. One project that I am working on currently is utilizing a metalloporphyrin compound called BMX-001. In animal models, BMX-001 was able to protect normal tissues, including neuronal tissue, from radiation damage and interestingly, BMX-001 was able to enhance the killing of tumors cells by radiation.

This compound has the potential to protect normal brain tissue while helping to promote tumor cell death. Radiation therapy leads to cognitive dysfunction in upwards to 50-90% of patients that need radiation therapy for cancer treatment.  I see daily the effects of radiation on my patients and their loved ones.  I am hopeful that someday we will find a way to prevent this and perhaps it will be with BMX-001.

I think that the biggest challenge in conducting research and providing clinical care is making both of these accessible to patients that could benefit from these interventions.

You’re also involved in medical education for residents, medical students and advanced practice providers. Can you tell me more about this work? What do you enjoy most about medical education?
Currently, I am the program director of the neuro-oncology fellowship. I also organize the elective rotations in neuro-oncology for the neurology residents, neurosurgery residents, and medical students.  Educating the neurologists of tomorrow is my favorite activity. Getting fellows, residents, and students excited about neurology is so fun and I find it fulfilling to know that someday these bright learners will change neuro-oncology and neurology.

How has our treatment of brain tumors changed since you first started practicing medicine? What changes do you see coming in the next decade?
The introduction of more targeted therapies is definitely a change since I first started. Recently, treatment of all malignancies is now become focused on immunotherapy. I do think that treatment of brain tumors will continue to become more rational and will be based on mutational analysis of tumor tissue.

In high school you regularly competed in science fairs, making as far as the Tennessee state finals. What was your final project and what did your experiment find?
For my high school project, I documented pollution in streams and creeks that were receiving waste water. Perhaps the more interesting project was my sixth-grade project. I made a steam engine out of eggshells. It was quite a machine!

You have more than 400 “Swatch” watches. How did this hobby of yours get started? What’s your favorite (or most interesting) specimen?
It started when I was around 8 years old. I would save my money and then buy a Swatch at the department store. I have always been good about saving money and I found it neat to save up and hunt for rare watches. I have a rare Swatch by Keith Haring that is very special. Also, I have one that is also a chandelier. I also have a few Swatches with “brains” on them. I started to get them from friends once they found out that I wanted to be a neurologist.

What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I enjoy being out in nature whether it is hiking or biking.  I like to be adventurous in cooking and my husband, Andrew, is an eager participant. Some of my creations have included homemade rice noodles for Thai food and Korean food such as Korean BBQ and seafood pancakes. And I have to mention my two perfect cats, Gus and Daisy Duke. They are absolutely the best!

Peters and her husband Andrew smile during a trip to the Grand Canyon.

To learn more about Peters, watch her Duke Health video profile on YouTube.