"Equal Parts Heart and Brain": Q&A with Dr. Corrie Painter

Dr. Corrie Painter went from cancer patient to advocate and researcher. At the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, she’s helping patients leave their legacy.

At the Cancer Program of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and in collaboration with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Corrie Painter leads the Angiosarcoma Project. She works with patients to collect critical information about their diagnoses, treatment, and outcomes in pursuit of scientific discovery. Once compiled, this vast deposit of information will comprise the first-ever, large-scale, searchable database of patients with cancer, providing invaluable insight for doctors, and allowing patients to contribute their experiences. We spoke with the associate director of operations and scientific outreach about her work, how she got there, and the role of women in biomedical research.

How is your work with the Angiosarcoma Project impactful today? What is most rewarding for you?

My work allows patients to take an active role in biomedical research, to partner with me as we work together toward accelerating discoveries in cancer research. I am inspired every day by the patients who join us, who drive this research. The rewards are bittersweet because every person who joins opens up the possibility of discovery but is also a person who has to face the stark realities of a cancer diagnosis.

What life experiences brought you to this work?

Having the unfortunate diagnosis of angiosarcoma, an exceedingly rare and often fatal cancer, while training as a Ph.D. student in biomedical sciences, led me here. It’s the only place where I feel I can have the maximal impact in the lives of cancer patients.

What do you see as being the biggest barrier of entry for women in your field?

I trained as a biomedical scientist, and although women comprised about half of my class, so there are not many women in leadership positions in biomedical research. There are many theories that exist regarding this throughout all STEM fields, that range from unconscious/gender bias, to stereotyping, to the difficulties that abound in trying to excel in a male-dominated workforce. I am fortunate to have a position where I feel as equally valued as my male counterparts, but I am also in a unique organization.

What would surprise people most about your work?

My work takes equal parts heart and brain. I can't think of data without seeing the faces of the patients who contributed to generate that data. My days are driven by a sense of urgency to help each and every person who signs up to help drive our research forward.

Learn more about patient-partnered research at the Broad Institute, including the Angiosarcoma Project, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project, and the Metastatic Prostate Cancer Project.