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Empowering Young Voices: The Role of Youth in Kidney Cancer Advocacy

Empowering Young Voices: The Role of Youth in Kidney Cancer Advocacy

Scarlett Talcott, a vibrant 11-year-old from southern Montana, stands confidently in front of the Capitol Building during KidneyCAN's Advocacy Day. Living on a ranch with her parents, sister, and two brothers, Scarlett balances her love for the arts, crafting, and 4-H activities with a strong...

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Empowering Young Voices: The Role of Youth in Kidney Cancer Advocacy

Empowering Young Voices: The Role of Youth in Kidney Cancer Advocacy

Scarlett Talcott, a vibrant 11-year-old from southern Montana, stands confidently in front of the Capitol Building during KidneyCAN's Advocacy Day. Living on a ranch with her parents, sister, and two brothers, Scarlett balances her love for the arts, crafting, and 4-H activities with a strong...

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Introducing Renée Maria Saliby, a dedicated young investigator in kidney cancer research! At just 27, Renée is blazing an inspring professional trail. Read on as she shares insights from her personal experiences and career pursuits, along with opportunities available for young researchers to impact the field.

Renée Maria Saliby: Kidney Cancer Research Champion

This month, KidneyCAN is proud to shine a light on Renée Maria Saliby, an inspiring young investigator making significant strides in the field of kidney cancer research. Affectionately known as #RMS by her colleagues on Twitter, she is tirelessly pursuing cures. Renée’s transition from patient to passionate researcher illustrates a journey marked by resilience, curiosity, and an unwavering commitment to advancing treatments for kidney cancer.
Renee Maria Saliby | Rising Star in Kidney Cancer Research

A Love for Travel & Adventure

At 27, Renée eenjoys hiking Massachusetts’ scenic trails, a testament to her love for adventure and staying active with sports like swimming and tennis. Far from her dear family in Lebanon and a brother in Paris, she finds joy in nature, as well as capturing moments through photography. She loves to visit new places and travel.
Joey Hull - Advocate for Kidney Cancer Research Funding

On the Stage

Presenting her latest findings at the Kidney Cancer Research Summit, Renée Maria Saliby stands as a promising research fellow under the mentorship of Drs. Choueiri and Braun at DFCI and Yale Cancer Center. Her journey reflects a dedicated path toward making a difference in the lives of patients with genitourinary cancers.

Discovering a Passion for Helping

Renée’s story is one of early encounters with the healthcare system, navigating through various health challenges from a young age. “Growing up, I was often on the patient side of things,” Renée recalls, detailing her experiences with asthma, scoliosis, and the discovery of having just one kidney.

It was through these personal challenges that Renée encountered “exceptional physicians whose support and compassion were empowering,” fueling her ambition to “be a source of strength and hope for others.”

Knowing she wanted to make a difference, Renée pursued a career in medicine. “My medical journey also sparked a deep curiosity in me, leading me to medical school and research,” she explains. “My time in the oncology department of an understaffed hospital, serving underprivileged communities, really confirmed my passion for this path.”

Renee Maria Saliby and the Yale Braun Lab
Renée is a research fellow in Genitourinary Oncology at DFCI and Yale Cancer Center (shown here with the Braun lab). She is currently applying to be an internal medicine resident and then hopes to be a hematology-oncology fellow.

A Commitment to Kidney Cancer Research

Renée’s decision to specialize in kidney cancer research was influenced by its complexities and the potential for impact. Renée expresses a profound connection to the field, stating, “I found myself particularly drawn to the complexities of kidney cancer, a disease that defies our established understanding of immunology and oncology.”

She goes on to explain that “the field is full of brilliant minds tirelessly pushing the boundaries. Even though I wasn’t sure what I could add to the mix, I knew I had to give it a shot. I also truly believed that all the advancements in that field had to be celebrated but also harnessed towards achieving a cure for patients.”

This interest was further solidified by a life-changing event, Renée recounts. On August 4, 2020, Renée was drafting a program application next to her window in Beirut when the port explosion occurred. “I was lucky to walk away unscathed despite the shattering of every glass surface in my home. Many were not as fortunate,” she shares. The horrible event was both a confirmation and a wake-up call, what she describes as “a poignant reminder that my life’s journey is about making a difference in the world and in the lives of patients.”

Renée continues, “I joined Dr. Toni Choueiri’s group to surround myself with excellence, to evolve into the best researcher possible, and to make meaningful contributions to the field.”

Renee Maria Saliby and the Choueiri Lab at ASCO
Renée thrives in the company of other dedicated, hardworking researchers. Here she is shown with her colleagues from the Choueiri Lab and other outstanding colleagues at the ASCO GU Cancers Symposium.

Empowering Young Researchers

Renée highlights the role of research grants in fostering innovation among young researchers.

“Although the process of grant writing might appear daunting, particularly for early-career researchers, the benefits of applying extend far beyond funding. First, the act of crafting a grant proposal compels researchers to thoroughly evaluate the potential impact of their work,” she explains. “Second, preparing a grant proposal necessitates the development of a detailed, structured plan for the project. This planning process is beneficial regardless of the outcome, as it provides a clear roadmap for your research and can guide future endeavors.”

“These grants represent a significant opportunity for young investigators to turn their novel ideas into potential new treatment avenues,” she continues, emphasizing how past recipients have used these opportunities to advance the field significantly.

When asked, Renée readily provides a list of researchers who have benefited from grants.

“Sylvan Baca, a 2020 recipient of a KCRP grant, utilized the funding to advance his project ‘Harnessing Epigenomics to Detect and Target Sarcomatoid Differentiation in Renal Cell Carcinoma.’ This work has already yielded significant discoveries in the field.

“Postdoctoral fellows like Thomas Denize and Nourhan El Ahmar, also KCRP grant recipients, are making strides in understanding ‘Terminally Exhausted CD8+ Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphocytes and M2-Like Macrophages as Biomarkers of Resistance to First-Line Anti-PD-1 Therapy in Metastatic RCC.’

“In addition, the ‘Combining Locally Administered Ipilimumab with a Personalized Neoantigen Cancer Vaccine to Improve T-Cell Priming and Antitumor Immunity in High-Risk Renal Cell Carcinoma’ KCRP-funded project (Catherine Wu) is already impacting the clinic with impressive results in the NeoVax trial.”

Grants like these are especially crucial in supporting research in less-explored areas of kidney cancer, such as divergent histologies (chromophobe RCC, SMARCB1-deficient tumors, translocation RCC). Thus, for young investigators, these grants are not just a source of funding, but a launchpad for groundbreaking research and a steppingstone toward a significant career in kidney cancer research.

 

The Power of Collaboration

Renée has attended and presented at the Kidney Cancer Research Summit (KCRS), underscoring the importance of collaboration and community.

“The experience of being in a room with so many people united by the goal of ‘accelerating cures’ is incredibly inspiring,” she says.

Renée explains that she appreciates the diversity of its attendees at KCRS. “It’s a convergence of patient advocates, industry representatives, and academic researchers from various disciplines, including urology, medical oncology, and radiation oncology. This blend of perspectives, from all corners of the globe and across different specialties, is crucial for advancing our scientific understanding. The multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of KCRS makes it an enriching experience for everyone involved,” she explains.

Renée explains that KCRS is an opportunity to learn in a collegial, informal environment, as well as to engage with more senior colleagues. “The shared goals among attendees foster a warm and supportive environment at the summit, which is especially encouraging for young researchers like me. It’s reassuring to know that any feedback I receive is intended to be constructive, focusing on the betterment of my research to make it more impactful for patients.” She notes that the KCRS community spirit is also fostered by less-scientific events such as KidneyCAN’s Rock the Run 5k, led by Drs. Bradley McGregor and Rana McKay, that raises funds directly for research (“Though my half-marathon days are behind me!” she says).

Renee Maria Saliby | Rising Star in Kidney Cancer Research
Renée says that presenting her work at poster walks has been an integral part of her professional development. “It’s a unique opportunity for in-depth, one-on-one discussions with fellow researchers who not only share similar interests but have also made the effort to engage with my work. This personal interaction is invaluable, and has often sparked new ideas. For me, presenting posters to a progressively growing audience has helped build my confidence and presentation skills and made me talk to people I would have never had the courage to address otherwise.”

Advice for Other Early Career Researchers

Renée’s story is a compelling invitation for other young investigators to join our mission to accelerate cures for kidney cancer.

“The landscape of kidney cancer research has undergone profound transformations in recent years. It’s inspiring to work alongside pioneers who have been instrumental in these breakthroughs, learning from their expertise to further move the field forward,” she explains.

There’s still plenty of work to do, however, as Renée continues: “Despite these strides, we must acknowledge that a subset of patients still does not fully benefit from current treatments. Our goal should be to ensure that all patients experience deep and lasting responses, manage treatment-related toxicity more effectively, and improve therapies for divergent histology in kidney cancer. The scope of unaddressed clinical needs and potential research avenues is vast.”

Her advice for fellow young investigators? “I’d emphasize that the kidney cancer field is full of opportunities for innovation and impactful work. It needs dedicated, hard-working, hopeful, and brilliant minds to continue steering the efforts in the right direction. The chance to make a tangible difference in the lives of patients with kidney cancer is both a privilege and a responsibility, and the field welcomes those ready to embrace this challenge.”

Renée also points out the benefit of engaging with senior mentors. “I have been fortunate to have exceptional mentors.” She recommends her peers find similar people who challenge you “to become a better person, physician, and researcher.”

Join the KidneyCAN Community

Renée also encourages her peers to get involved with KidneyCAN.

“KidneyCAN is a grassroots organization, birthed from the shared struggles of patients, survivors, and caregivers united in their fight against kidney cancer. This origin is fundamental, as it clearly establishes KidneyCAN and the KCRS as initiatives driven by and dedicated to patients,” she explains.

“Placing the patients’ perspectives at the heart of the research initiatives encourages the merging of diverse viewpoints and fosters a collaborative environment. This is evident in the multidisciplinary nature of the summit’s participants. Such a varied representation is essential, as comprehensive treatment of kidney cancer demands a multidisciplinary approach, which is being acknowledged by a growing number of people in the field.

“I have seen important collaborations emerge from KCRS meetings after someone presented their work and sparked the interest of another researcher. It’s a powerful catalyst for progress.”

 The KidneyCAN team sincerely thanks Renée Maria Saliby for sharing her insights, and for her work on behalf of the kidney cancer community. Thank you, #RMS!

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