McArdle Scientist Dusty Deming is Impacting the Lives of Patients in both the Clinic and the Lab

McArdle Laboratory and Department of Medicine scientist Dusty Deming knew he wanted to be a physician ever since he was in grade school. Since then, his desire to positively impact the lives of patients as both a clinician and a researcher has been reinforced many times over.

During his first semester of medical school at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Deming began working in the lab of Kyle Holen, a gastrointestinal oncologist at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Having worked in a basic science laboratory as an undergraduate at Marquette, he was already passionate about research, and was excited to continue his laboratory work as a medical student.

Deming’s time under Dr. Holen also allowed him to interact with patients in the clinic who were coping with cancer. Working directly with patients and witnessing first-hand the benefits research could have on their lives solidified Deming’s interest in oncology and cemented his desire to make research a prominent focus of his practice.

“From that experience alone, I knew that for the rest of my career I wanted to be both a clinician seeing patients directly and also a researcher trying to develop the next, newest, greatest treatment options patients with cancer,” Deming says.

Today, Deming is an assistant professor of medicine at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, specializing in gastrointestinal cancers. His primary appointment is in the Department of Medicine, but he holds a zero percent appointment in the McArdle Laboratory (Department of Oncology). This joint appointment allows him to participate fully in research and training as a McArdle faculty member with his salary support coming from his work as a physician.

Deming describes three main focuses for his lab’s research: precision medicine, sensitivity testing, and immunotherapy. In precision medicine, a patient’s genome is analyzed, allowing a treatment plan to be designed which will be most effective for that patient. Sensitivity testing involves growing patients’ cancer cells in vitro to predict how well the patient’s tumor might respond to various treatments. Immunotherapy, a rapidly accelerating area of cancer research, focuses on harnessing the power of the body’s natural defense system to fight cancers.

Consistent across Deming’s clinical practice and research focuses is his commitment to a more individualized approach to medicine.

“A major reason why more personalized medicine is becoming a major focus is that we know a heck of a lot more about the biology of cancers today,” Deming says. “When you understand the biology of a particular cancer, you realize that not all cancers are created equally and that there are certain things in different cancers that we as physicians can take advantage of in different situations.”

As both a physician and researcher, Deming emphasizes that the goal of all of his lab’s research is ultimately to benefit patients. His lab is translational and collaborative by nature, with a mix of medical and graduate students, residents and postdocs.

“The relationship between basic and clinical research is absolutely critical,” Deming says. “You can’t do good clinical research without solid translational research, and you can’t do solid translational research without great foundational research.”

The collaborative and transdisciplinary nature of research at the University of Wisconsin is one of the primary reasons Deming has remained here throughout the different stages of his education and career. One of his many current projects involves working with Dr. Melissa Skala, an investigator for the Morgridge Institute for Research and UW Carbone Cancer Center, to apply fluorescence imaging technology towards improving cancer treatments. Together, they are working on using optical fluorescence imaging to track the viability of cancer cells in response to different treatments and the sensitivity of cancer cells to various drugs.

Beyond his clinical interactions, Dr. Deming has an even more personal connection to colorectal cancer. In an ironic twist of fate, he was diagnosed with colon cancer himself several years ago. Although his own diagnosis did not alter his lab’s focus, it did underscore the urgency of his research for helping to improve the lives of cancer patients.

Looking ahead, Deming is optimistic about the future of cancer research, and sees tremendous promise in a wide array of research areas.

“My lab will tell you that I’m excited about everything, almost to an annoying level. With the ability to interact with great collaborators at McArdle and across the UW, and by working together in a team science format, we are going to make big strides and we are going to make them fast.”

By Simon Blaine-Sauer (