UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Magazine - Spring 2016 - Page 10

center profile To say that Mansoor Saleh, M.D., has led an interesting life is something of an understatement. profession of your choice,” he says. “The state literally heritage and brought up in British East Africa, needed 20 physicians, and you were number 22 on Born on the Af rican island of Zanzibar of Asian Dr. Saleh’s early life is interwoven with Africa’s own chaotic history and profoundly impacted by an unusual arrangement between his father and grandfather. Birmingham was a very quiet, peaceful place. I felt that UAB was very cosmopolitan and inviting, and that Birmingham was a good place to raise a family.” Zanzibar. I was the firstborn, and although I have a younger brother and two sisters, I was essentially brought up as an only child by my grandparents in to Canada as possible, yet still in America, and my completely left UAB, however, maintaining his faculty says. “So I thought where do you go that’s as close options were either Detroit or Buffalo.” Dr. Saleh ultimately chose Detroit, and it was a trials at the community-practice level. He never appointment and returning to the Cancer Center once a week for the next 16 years to continue his research Dr. Saleh had been interested in medicine since was there that he met UAB Comprehensive Cancer when Cancer Center director Edward Partridge, who was working at the University of Michigan at the UAB’s Phase I Program (see cover story). Because of had no choice. It was too big a risk.” inspired by his uncle, an ENT specialist and surgeon when you trained, you get the degree initials after your name, and my uncle had about 12 letters after his name,” Dr. Saleh recalls. “When I came to visit him for my asthma shots, I would see all those impressive letters and say that’s what I want to be – someone life and ultimately shape his career going forward. It Center director emeritus Albert LoBuglio, M.D., time. He heard Dr. LoBuglio give a lecture on using monoclonal antibodies as a “magic bullet” approach to treating cancer. “That triggered my interest in immunotherapy and attracted me to oncology,” Dr. Saleh says. When Dr. LoBuglio left Michigan to become and chair the center’s Protocol Review Committee. The decision to return to UAB full-time came M.D., was searching for someone to take the reins of his experience, Dr. Saleh was a natural choice. “I felt I had learned the business side of medicine at Georgia Cancer Specialists and this was a great opportunity to come back where it all started,” Dr. Saleh says. “That’s what brought me back to UAB full-time.” remains, and my the UAB Cancer Center director in 1983, Dr. Saleh Realizing a Dream originally colonized by Germany until World War I, to Germany, where he studied at the University of South was something of a culture shock, but Dr. and clinical investigation, Dr. Saleh still has a passion in 1961. The Sultan’s government in Zanzibar was Saleh’s father was friends with Dr. Max Mohl, a Birmingham was a very quiet, peaceful place. I felt my commitment to my patients remains,” he says. Then came the revolution. Tanganyika was followed by British rule until gaining independence overthrown during the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. A period of extreme violence ensued, and Dr. Saleh and his grandfather – a high-ranking administrator in the Sultan’s government – were briefly detained in a prison. “It was awful not knowing what was happening to your family,” he recalls. “My experience at that young age gives me a keen sense of The revolution brought about a major change for Dr. Saleh as he went to Dares Salaam, on the mainland, to be reunited with his parents and siblings The pursuit of those many letters led Dr. Saleh Heidelberg, thanks to a friend of his father’s. Dr. German economist and author, and his wife Irene, a professor of Russian languages at the University of Heidelberg, who shared the elder Saleh’s love of a very different culture,” he recalls. “I spent the first year learning the language before entering medical school. The Mohls became parents to me.” training, he looked westward. C E N T E R While he was in medical school, Dr. Saleh’s time to choose an institution for his post-graduate “I wanted to be close to my parents, but I felt edge in the field of immunotherapy. That is where I acquired my skills as a translational researcher and learned about first-in-human clinical trials.” He quickly rose through the ranks at the Cancer Center, eventually serving as associate director for the clinical trials network. In 1999, however, a new challenge arose for Dr. Saleh. He had the opportunity to join the staff at Georgia Cancer Specialists in Atlanta as the group’s director for research development. While at GCS, Dr. Saleh and his team built a phase I program, one Research has has not changed. expectation I have on myself and my team,” he says. barrier that I knew no German and had to adapt to “Today everyone speaks of targeted cancer therapy. remains. keeps coming back.” We have new tools to fight the cancer, but the enemy At that time, the LoBuglio team was at the cutting to Europe. “I was young and didn’t consider it a internationally recognized, pioneering team in to my patients advanced, but my patients. “The care you give to the patient is the care had become extremely socialistic, which would play a C A N C E R For the next decade, Dr. Saleh would work commitment not changed. Cancer still exists. Patients are there. targeted immunotherapy of cancer. Dr. Saleh says: parents had immigrated to Toronto. So when it was C O M P R E H E N S I V E that Birmingham was a good place to raise a family.” “Research has advanced, but my inquisitiveness has education, so in 1972 he made the move from Africa the younger Saleh come to Germany for his medical and later went to live with an aunt and uncle to finish key role in Dr. Saleh’s future. that UAB was very cosmopolitan and inviting, and for his work. “My passion for science remains, and closely with Dr. LoBuglio in what became an Coming to America high school in Nairobi, Kenya. At the time, Tanzania Saleh felt quickly at home. “Compared to Detroit, After a career of 30-plus years in cancer research African ebony sculptures. Dr. Mohl offered to have in what would eventually become the present-day nation of Tanzania. He enrolled in a boarding school followed shortly thereafter. Coming to the Deep “My passion for science with many letters after his name!” Zanzibar until I was 11 years old.” immigrants.” U A B of the few in the country conducting first-in-human decision that would impact the next 30 years of his who studied and trained in Scotland. “In the UK first child would be sent back to live with them in the United States had the better medical system,” he becoming – a farmer, an accountant, whatever. You Tanganyika (or British East Africa) on the mainland, appreciation and empathy for the plight of displaced 16 the list, you had to become whatever number 22 was suffering asthma as a child. He was particularly he consoled my grandparents by promising that his to Detroit, dictated what you could do with your life. If the state “My father was the last of his siblings to marry and leave home,” Dr. Saleh says. “When he moved to “Compared “In Tanzania, you couldn’t be trained in the Dr. Saleh uses a Golden Rule approach with his inquisitiveness Cancer still you’d expect if you were a patient yourself. That’s the exists. Patients “What also drives me is the opportunity to provide have new tools to our patients with something they otherwise would not have access to if it were not for our phase I program.” Dr. Saleh hopes his efforts and those of are there. We fight the cancer, but the enemy keeps coming his colleagues will lead to UAB becoming an international leader in early drug development research. “Ultimately, that’s what we can best do for back.” the patient, and that should be our goal,” he says. “All in all, I’m happy to have come back because this is the realization of my dream.” # K N O W U A B C C C • U A B . E D U / C A N C E R 17