Medical school brought Ebert back to Boston, and working with Harvard Medical School hematologist Frank Bunn, a former HHMI investigator, steered him toward blood cancer research. As a postdoctoral fellow, Ebert worked at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard with HHMI Investigator Todd Golub, who pushed him to tackle important, challenging problems.
Ebert’s work now has implications far beyond blood disorders. For example, his team recently discovered that premalignant, cancer-causing mutations in blood cells can also predispose people to cardiovascular disease. “That was very surprising,” he says. The premalignant mutations in white blood cells can trigger an inflammatory response, he says, which may be the link between these seemingly disparate health problems.
Other blood cell mutations linked to cancer can lead to life-threatening blood clots, Ebert’s lab has found. “We are working to understand how cancer-causing mutations alter the function of blood cells, how the mutated cells may cause disease, and how these diseases might be prevented or treated.”
Ebert was most strongly attracted to cancer research because, he says, “it is a field with enormous potential for changes in the way we treat patients, based on discoveries about the biology of cancer.” But his willingness to pursue interesting paths, wherever they may lead, could drive changes in the treatment of a host of other diseases as well.