Watching two close family members die painful deaths compelled one faculty member to change his career from tracking birds to demolishing cancer.
Timothy Ratliff, the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research, has generated contributions to cancer on his own and through collaborations at Purdue. It was at Texas A&M University-Commerce where he shifted from studying bird migration patterns to cancer. He made the leap after watching his father and father-in-law die within six months of each other.
“Treatments weren’t as effective for those diseases and they both died very difficult deaths,” he said.
Ever since, Ratliff has worked to change that.
“He wrote the book on bladder cancer and bladder cancer treatment,” Scott Crist, research assistant professor, said. “He has continued that throughout the years as a foremost worldwide, world-renowned expert on bladder cancer and urologic neoplasia.”
Ratliff optimized a treatment which introduces a bacterium, Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), to treat bladder cancer. It has been shown to increase the survival rate of patients with bladder cancer.
That research continues to be built on at Purdue, where BCG is part of a targeted-delivery approach with fibronectin attachment protein (FAP).
Basically, FAP allows nano-particles to zone-in on the cancer, instead of creating a big immune response and potential infection.
This is a one of many interdisciplinary projects at the center. Ratliff said one of his main goals as director is to promote scientific interactions and pull people together.
“There are great researchers at this University, but they’re kind of in their own world, and Tim is one of those people who just brings everyone together,” Crist said.
Outside of the lab, Ratliff has taken the collaborative aspect into the community. Working with Teasa Thompson, program manager of Affecting Cancer Together (ACT) and assistant director of outreach for the center, he helped develop outreach programs.
The Barbershop Health Initiative is one program within ACT through which barbers are educated about cancer, specifically prostate and other cancers which have a greater impact on men.
“They (barbers) talk to their patrons about it and try to educate the patrons to point where they understand something about the disease and something about how their lifestyle is impacting the disease,” Ratliff said.
While Ratliff left studying birds to advance cancer research, he never left the outdoors. He is an avid hiker and landscape photographer. He has even found time during his career to hike Mount Fuji. But his focus on cancer is clear.
“I have never met anyone as tirelessly dedicated to a cause,” said Crist.