Isla Garraway, MD, PhD

Isla Garraway, MD, PhD
About Isla Garraway, MD, PhD

Michael Garraway’s influence on daughter Isla Garraway, MD, PhD and her research career was made at an early age. As a professor of botany at Ohio State University, he exposed Isla to a laboratory setting during her childhood – allowing her to experience science at a hands-on level.

“From the time my siblings and I were young we always used to visit my dad’s lab and it was so fascinating,” says Dr. Garraway, who today is a urologist at UCLA and the Greater Los Angeles-VA Medical Center and a research scientist at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC). “He was definitely very inspiring for me early on and very influential for me going into medicine.”

In 1994, her father Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The news came unexpectedly and left his daughter scrambling for answers. Still working on her PhD at that time, Dr. Garraway quickly refocused her career goals on finding the best treatments for her father.

“During the time of my father’s diagnosis there weren’t many studies or new scientific literature on prostate cancer,” said Dr. Garraway. “The minute I found out he had prostate cancer all my priorities shifted. How could I focus on researching anything else?”

Diagnosed in an advanced stage, Michael valiantly fought prostate cancer for four years before succumbing to the disease in 1999. The cancer had spread beyond his prostate to other areas of his body.

His death continues to strengthen Dr. Garraway’s resolve as well as that of her brother Dr. Levi Garraway (who is also a PCF-funded researcher) to finding better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer patients.

Stem Cells & Prostate Cancer
Today, Dr. Garraway’s focus at JCCC is developing ways to isolate specific stem cells from patients with prostate cancer. These cells constitute a certain fraction of all cells in the prostate, and have a unique ability to regenerate themselves.

The idea, according to Dr. Garraway, is to test different types of cells from the prostate for stem cell activity by strategically combining them with supportive cells which may aid in the regeneration of prostate tissue.

Understanding what role stem cells play in cancer tumor growth could prove to be monumental in developing future targeted therapies for prostate cancer patients.

“We’re trying to understand which cells have this capability of regeneration because these cells have adopted unique mechanisms for survival and may be the site where tumor formation begins,” said Dr. Garraway. “By targeting stem cells within the prostate, more durable new therapies for men with advanced or recurrent prostate cancer may be possible.”

For research purposes, Dr. Garraway gathers specimens from patients who have undergone prostate surgeries. She then dissects these tumors searching for factors that allow the cancer cells to survive.

In a collaborative effort with her brother’s research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Garraway has been able to contribute specimens to further his studies in analyzing the prostate cancer genome which may identify new genetic factors that are crucial role in prostate cancer development and progression.

“It’s very exciting having the opportunity to work with my brother in prostate cancer research,” said Dr. Garraway. “We are both scientists with our own independent laboratories that are able to join forces to fight this disease. It’s synergistic and provides a gratifying feeling.”

In addition to her research in prostate cancer, Dr. Garraway is also eager to bring awareness to this disease whenever possible.

Both Isla and Levi Garraway are featured in the PCF’s newly produced publication, Prostate Cancer: Straight Talk for African-American Men and Their Families, a guide that offers informative insight into risk factors for African-American men.

Dr. Garraway advises her patients regularly on the importance of annual screenings for prostate cancer that enables early detection and treatment of the disease.

“It’s really important that men have their annual screenings and talk with their doctor beginning at age 50 and sometimes sooner. This is especially true if one is African-American or has a family history of prostate cancer,” said Dr. Garraway. “Prostate cancer is a fight I’m committed to seeing to the end. I cherish the memory of my father, his words, and his love and my research is dedicated to him.”


University of California Los Angeles & VA