February 01, 2021
Kelvin Lee, M.D., a world-recognized medical oncologist and multiple myeloma researcher, assumed duties as director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center on Feb. 1. He and his wife, Louise, have relocated to Indy’s northeast side in Fortville. He pointed out that their new home is near the IKEA store, which is where they have already completed many shopping trips. They re-located from Buffalo, N.Y., where he was most recently a physician scientist and led the immunology efforts at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Louise, a research scientist, will run his lab here. Their daughter, Kristen, is a freshman at Butler University, and their son, Justin, is a senior at Northeastern University.
Dr. Lee, the third director of the cancer center since its founding in 1992, answered some questions about his new role, what brought him here, and more.
Q: What attracted you to IU and the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center?
A: It was the great people and talent at IU in general, and at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer in particular. Plus, the commitment and engagement of senior leadership at IU School of Medicine and IU Health to continue to build a world-class cancer research + education + care effort. And finally, the bold aspiration at IU to cure cancer — something in fact IU has a great tradition in doing.
Q: You’ve started a new job and moved during a pandemic. What were some of the unique challenges you faced during the interview process as well as starting the job and finding a home that were brought on by the pandemic?
A: I think all of us have struggled with the narrow perspective that one gets through a cell phone or computer camera – it’s like trying to look at a landscape through a straw. And since you can’t actually be there in person, there are things you simply have to do on faith and lean on the great team in Indy that made everything happen remotely.
Q: What led you into cancer care and research?
A: My career in medicine was started by a complete accident. I was going to be a marine biologist in high school, but in the summer of my junior year, I had a wonderful laboratory experience with Dr. Elliott Perlin at the National Naval Medical Center in immunology research. So, I decided to apply to the combined undergraduate-medical program (Inteflex) at the University of Michigan. Through a clerical error, even though I was rejected by the admissions committee, I received a letter to interview in person and managed to get accepted into Inteflex, which started my medical career.
I went into cancer care and research because of the wonderful patients I took care of in medical school. They and their families were extraordinarily brave, generous in spirit, and hopeful despite sometimes overwhelming odds. And I remember thinking, “Why aren’t we doing better for these patients?” I believe that research cures cancer, which is why I am in research.