David Tran, MD, PhD, says his parents always prioritized education, teaching him and his siblings that it is the key to making a difference for those you love and the things you care about. They did everything they could to ensure the education of their children, as growing up in Vietnam did not give his parents many opportunities, and Dr. Tran continues to thank them every day as he works towards a cure.
Through his early education, Dr. Tran always had an interest in cancer research. However, a career in cancer was not decided on until his sister-in-law passed away from metastatic cancer. Watching helplessly as she succumbed to the disease was a crucial turning point for him both personally and professionally. Dr. Tran knew he needed to pursue a career in cancer and found his place in neuro-oncology.
Dr. Tran truly treasures his patients and vividly remembers his very first patient as a neuro-oncologist. He saw a lot of himself in his first patient, they were a similar age and at the start of their careers, a time in both of their lives that was open to endless possibilities and potential. They formed a special bond as Dr. Tran helped this patient cope with their diagnosis of a glioblastoma and find the best treatment plan. Watching his friend slowly die, a friend that Dr. Tran could see so much of himself in, was a pivotal moment. This motivated him to dedicate his professional career to finding a cure for brain tumors.
“I received permission from this patient to use their scans for teaching purposes. All the slides I use for presentations actually have images of their scans. It goes with me everywhere I go. Every talk that I give I have this patient’s images. “
Driven to heal and cure, Dr. Tran refuses to get bogged down by negativity and uses it as motivation.
Areas of Research
Dr. Tran is a true believer in teamwork, and the unique, collaborative environment at the University of Florida helps the team achieve a much greater goal together than can be achieved individually. With this collaboration, Dr. Tran has been able to focus on two areas of research.
The first is focused on a method for delivering treatment to the brain, typically difficult due to a natural barrier between the blood and the brain. Through his research, they have found a laser that will get through the barrier and deliver immunotherapy and chemotherapy to the tumor.
The other aspect of his research focuses on how cancer, including brain cancer, develops and how it spreads, a process called metastasis. They have several projects looking into the mechanisms of how cancer decides to invade the surrounding environments and spread through the body.
He currently has multiple grants, including a K08 grant from the National Institutes of Health and a Bankhead Coley Cancer Research grant from the Florida Department of Health. He is the principal investigator on two national studies of laser interstitial therapy combined with immune checkpoint blockade and tumor treating fields in the treatment of recurrent malignant brain tumors. Dr. Tran has many national and international publications and presentations.
Life Away from the Lab
Dr. Tran is a family man, with three young and a wife, who he considers his biggest supporter. On weekends, you can find Dr. Tran and his family playing ping pong or badminton, swimming, or biking on their favorite Gainesville trail. While his family has grown to love the Gainesville area, the Florida summers are taking some getting used to.
He has a special place in his heart for humanitarian work and was ready to travel the world and help those in need once he received his bachelor’s degree. However, a professor urged him to go to medical school so he can have a larger impact. In fact, Dr. Tran hopes to one day achieve that dream after retirement.
In an alternate world, Dr. Tran would likely be the next Sherlock Holmes, having read all of the novels as a child. While Sherlock Holmes solves crime mysteries, Dr. Tran is a bit of a Sherlock himself as he solves problems with his keen curiosity and dedication to find answers in his field.
Since joining the University of Florida department of neurosurgery in 2015, he has become an integral part of the UF Health neurosurgery brain tumor program committed to the cure of malignant brain tumors. Dr. Tran can be found motivating his patients as he travels with them through every step of the journey.
Dr. Tran lives by the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center mantra, “We are in this with you. I am in this with you.”
And he truly is.