Professor, Associate Chair of Radiation Oncology
SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Field: Biophysical and Biological Research
As a professor and associate chair of radiation oncology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Christopher Lange prides himself on his ability to find new ways to approach problems and discover innovative solutions. At the start of his career, Dr. Lange was interested in the application of the physical ways of thinking and approaches to biological problems. Since many of these problems had to do with growth and genetics, with cancer being the quintessential example of abnormal growth, this heavily influenced his movement into oncology.
Prior to taking up his post with SUNY Downstate, Dr. Lange received extensive training from some of the most prestigious schools in the world, including Stuyvesant High School in New York, MIT and Oxford University. From there, he completed his doctoral studies under Laszlo Lajtha, who was his professor at Oxford. Dr. Lajtha would later became the founding director of the Patterson Laboratories in The Christie Hospital and the Holt Radium Institute in Manchester, where the Medical Research Council gave him the omission and the funding to make the institution the premier cancer research facility in all of Europe. To this day, Dr. Lange feels that having worked with Dr. Lajtha was a huge advantage that continues to set him apart from his peers.
Dr. Lange is motivated by studying problems in-depth, essentially pulling something apart and putting it back together again so that he can understand how it works. He considers the moment of insight, when the solution to the problem is revealed at last, to be the most fulfilling element of his career. Dr. Lange considers his most prominent challenge to be the acquisition of funding for research. While SUNY Downstate employs approximately 30 student volunteers to perform clinical tests and laboratory work, automation is still required to process the statistical data from these tests in order to discern meaningful results. This automation would increase Dr. Lange’s output by at least tenfold, if not by significantly more.
Conversation with Christopher S. Lange, S.B., D.Phil, KCOM
Worldwide Publishing: On what topics do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Christopher S. Lange: Cancer biology and radiation effects.
What characteristics help to separate you from your competitors?
I went to excellent schools and got excellent training — from Stuyvesant High School in New York to MIT, where I learned the tools of the trade and how to solve problems, and Oxford University, where I learned to choose the important problems.
I then did my doctoral studies under Laszlo Lajtha, who was my professor at Oxford and became the founding director of the Patterson Laboratories in The Christie Hospital and the Holt Radium Institute in Manchester. I worked very closely with him during my graduate years and was able to learn many aspects from the leaders in each of these fields such as math and statistics. This was a huge advantage for me, I believe.
What motivates you?
There are two things: One is the fun of tackling a problem and essentially pulling something apart and putting it back together again so I can understand how it works.
The other part of it is that the problems that we look at should be not only important from the point of view of science and the understanding of things, but they should also have a public utility in terms of problems in health, and how to improve how we treat patients. If we can cure diseases, people have better, longer lives.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your goals?
It’s mainly funding for our research because I have a certain number of clinical colleagues who round up the patients for the studies that we want to do and I have about 30 students who are all volunteers who want to work in my lab from high school to medical school. So there is a whole range of students, but we need automation to have enough numbers and enough statistical power to be able to distinguish definitively whichever way the result goes. The automation would increase our output at least 10-fold, if not 50-fold.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
The “Eureka!” of solving the problem. I find a way to approach things differently. People usually have looked at things for a while and I can look at it and find a different way to approach it and I attest that to my math and statistical background.
Who have been your mentors or people who have greatly influenced you?
I had a social studies high school teacher named Sylvia Brodie, who, during the McCarthy period, got a directive that came down from the board of education listing a whole batch of books that were considered to be dangerous. Students were not allowed to read these books, and knowing us and the frame of the times, she copied this list of the banned books on the blackboard and said these books were dangerous and we should never read them — of course, she knew we would go out and read them.
At MIT, I had a professor named Alex Rich, who is the one who later discovered the structure of the transfer of RNA and also discovered ZDNA, which is a DNA that is twisted in the opposite direction. He should have gotten a Nobel Prize for that.
Another mentor was Laszlo Lajtha, who was a professor at Oxford and the founder of the field of stem cell kinetics.