For Edward Seto, associate director for basic sciences at the George Washington University Cancer Center and professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), the key lesson from his long career in cancer research is simple.
“Rather than try to know everything,” Dr. Seto said, “we should focus on how we can contribute a small piece to a large puzzle.”
Dr. Seto’s small pieces—in the form of cancer epigenetics and histone deacetylase enzymes or HDACs—have helped him chip away at finding a cancer cure. Basic epigenetics boils down to “good” and “bad” genes in cells. The bad appear in cancer cells, the good in normal cells. HDACs can affect gene expression without altering DNA, and Dr. Seto, by regulating gene expression, is working to turn off the bad genes and bring cancer cells back to normal cells.
“Over the years, I’ve learned to be happy if I can just make a small contribution,” Dr. Seto, an award-winning and widely published researcher, said on Monday at his installation as the King Fahd Professor of Cancer Biology.
“I’m honored today to be given this opportunity to contribute, no matter how small, to the GW Cancer Center, the medical school, the university and to the educational ambitions and goals of the late King Fahd.”
King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who ruled Saudi Arabia from 1982 until his death in 2005, was “somebody who cared very much about education,” according to his nephew, Abdullah Al-Saud, ambassador to the United States at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. King Fahd served as minister of education from 1954 to 1960, and he helped lay the foundation for a nationwide school system.
“I’m very happy to be here and very happy to be part of the celebration of something that somebody I knew was behind,” said Ambassador Al-Saud, after accepting a framed medallion commemorating the installation. “[I want] to convey our thanks [to] the university … and [I’m] very happy to see fellow Saudis who are studying here.”
Saudi Arabia and GW, under King Fahd’s leadership, began combining efforts in education in the 1990s, said Forrest Maltzman, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at GW. The relationship has continued to grow, culminating in the installation.
“We are grateful for King Fahd’s vision and generosity,” Dr. Maltzman said. “The King Fahd Professorship of Cancer Biology will enhance the ability of Dr. Seto and support the GW Cancer Center’s research initiatives.”
Dr. Maltzman, with George Washington President Steven Knapp and SMHS Dean Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, senior vice president for health affairs and the Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, emphasized that the professorship will support Dr. Seto and his lab as they continue to make discoveries on HDACs.
With that backing, Dr. Seto said he is well prepared to follow his “results and data, trust your instincts, stay on your path, but be prepared for unexpected turns.”
“Keep going until you find it,” he said, “and don’t let anyone discourage you.”