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Renee Brady-Nicholls, Ph.D., has her sights set on doing a collaboration where she can analyze data from different underrepresented patient groups to determine how treatment could be adapted to improve responses.

Photo by: Nicholas J. Gould


Women faculty at Moffitt Cancer Center come from different backgrounds and cultures around the globe. Their areas of research and clinical care span the entire cancer continuum, including clinical science and trials, basic science, epidemiology, health outcomes, medical physics and more. Community involvement, mentorship and inclusion among faculty are foundational, and we celebrate the essential roles women play in making a difference at the cancer center and in society.

An Interview with Dr. Renee Brady-Nicholls

Renee Brady-Nicholls, Ph.D., joined the research faculty in the Integrated Mathematical Oncology (IMO) Department at Moffitt Cancer Center in 2022. She also completed her postdoctoral training in the department, after earning her Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Florida A&M University and her master’s and doctorate from North Carolina State University. Her research focuses on developing novel, predictive models of minimally and noninvasive biomarkers. After careful model calibration and validation, these models can be used to propose alternative treatment strategies that can ultimately reduce cancer health disparities.

What made you want to go into cancer research as a career?

When I was looking for advisors in graduate school, I reached out to a professor who was doing cardiovascular dynamics. I started to work with her to do my Ph.D., and I had the opportunity to go to Denmark to meet with our clinical collaborators there. That’s when I really saw that the math I was doing wasn’t just crunching numbers, it was really trying to make a difference. We were working with real patient data and making real-time predictions. When I came to Moffitt for my interview, I just found that the work here was so fascinating. Everyone has a cancer story. So the idea of using mathematics to contribute to that field was important to me.

What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?

I’m primarily working on using patient-reported outcomes to predict patient response. So looking at survey data: On a scale of 1 to 10, can you rate your level of fatigue? Nauseousness? Shortness of breath? We look at the change in how a patient is feeling from one measurement to another and see how that correlates with their tumor volumes. Then, if we find a correlation between a specific patient-reported outcome and tumor volume or other measurement, we might be able to make predictions for a patient response.

We actually did that with insomnia in non-small cell lung cancer. We recently published that in Clinical Cancer Research. We found that looking at the changes in insomnia and volume measurements, we were able to predict whether a patient would have response or regression with about 77% accuracy.

The utility of patient-reported outcomes is a field that I feel is relatively untapped, at least in math oncology. So I’m excited about where it can go.

What’s a cross-collaborative effort that you haven’t had a chance to work on but you’d like to?

I want to do more work in disparities research. The hardest thing is getting access to data that’s diverse enough. I’d like to have a collaboration where I could look at different underrepresented patient groups to see differences in their responses, and then how we can adapt treatment to improve responses.

I’ve had a collaboration with Dr. Kosj Yamoah for prostate cancer patients. He has a lot of collaborative connections, so we were able to get data from Black and white patients. But the disparity is still there. For example, you might get 95% white patients and 5% Black patients. That makes it a bit difficult to parse out the true differences.

So I would like to get access to more diverse data or just larger data sets with diverse patient groups to see if I can understand those differences.

Who is the person who has encouraged you the most in your career, and how have they impacted you?

My mom, from the personal side. She always says, “Do what you need to do now, so you can do what you want to do later. You’re a genius, and you know it.” She’s always done that. I have a 10-year-old, and she does the same thing to him.

Professionally, one of my best mentors has been Dr. Heiko Enderling. I was in his lab until 2022 when I started my own lab. He’s been a really good mentor and educator, challenging me to do things to push outside of my comfort zone.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve taken from a mentor?

I tend to want to stay in my comfort zone, where I don’t want to move and I don’t need to. Dr. Enderling was one of the main people who was pressing me to apply for faculty positions. I had to learn to believe in myself and not be afraid to take different things on. He would always encourage us: What’s the next step? What’s the next thing that you can do? Or at the end of a project, what does this mean? What is the clinical application? How is this going to impact somebody later? Just thinking of the next step is really important.

What advice would you give researchers who are just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to ask a question. No question is a silly question. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. It’s important to know what you don’t know and be honest with yourself about that. Also, find the resources. There’s always somebody who’s willing to help. Everyone wants to be a mentor in some capacity. So reach out, find those mentors and ask the questions.

What do you do to keep a good work/life balance?

I try to be intentional about my time, especially time at home. When I get home, I’m not doing work unless I absolutely have to. And even that would be after my kids are asleep. I have a 10-year-old and 2-year-old twins. On the weekends, when I shut off my laptop on Friday, I don’t open it again until Monday.

But that means I have to be very intentional about my time when I’m at work, so I don’t feel guilty at the end of the day. Because that’s very real — feeling guilty that you didn’t do enough work.

How do you measure your own success?

I try to keep the patient at the center of my research. I like to know that my work can be applied in the clinic. It means something, and it’s going to have a long-term effect. My long-term goal is to come up with a model that can eventually be assessed clinically in a trial.

Right now, we’re working on a breast cancer trial where we’re looking at sequential therapies. So treating patients with one treatment for a period of time and a second treatment for a period of time, and then seeing if we can pinpoint the exact time in order to prolong their time to progression. We’re using a mathematical model, but it’s after the fact. I want to do it the other way. I want to develop mathematical models that can be tested in a clinical trial and have long-term impact.

How do you continue to grow and develop professionally?

The biggest thing would be new collaborations because my long-term goal is clinical trials. So it’s important to build effective collaborations and find those people who are willing to take a chance on math.

What unsung heroes do you most appreciate at Moffitt?

I would definitely say our admins Danae Paris and Heidi Rivera O’Neill. They’re fantastic. They hold the department together. They’re like the glue.