Dr. Michael Binkley discovered his passion for cancer care as an undergrad studying chemistry at Northwestern University, Chicago. Synthesizing potential new drugs and therapies for those suffering with such a complex disease fascinated him endlessly, and propelled him down a path of innovation. Now, Dr. Binkley is an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology. His research focuses on translational genomics and clinical outcomes. Both concepts follow a similar thread: empowering patients to make better informed choices about their treatment based on their specific needs, dispositions, and genetic makeup.
“At its core, it’s curiosity [that drives my research]. Wanting to have a deeper understanding of the cancer biology, the inherited genetics, and other factors that cause certain events to happen for patients,” Dr. Binkley explained.
After graduating he set his sights on California, ready for a change from the Windy City winters, opting for sunny holidays instead.
Binkley first put down roots in the Bay Area teaching high school jazz and physics in South San Francisco through the Teach for America Foundation. He knew he wanted to go back to school, but desired more real-world experience as an educator before doing so. Eventually, with a few years of teaching under the belt, Binkley decided it was time to start applying to medical school. He was accepted to Stanford in 2011, where he was referred to the topic of radiation oncology by a friend, citing the modality’s unique position of incorporating elements of physics, chemistry and biology.
Binkley was intrigued very much early on, but considered different specialties throughout rotations before pursuing a residency in radiation oncology.
“I think for me, seeing the interplay between how fast research in the field was moving, and the way treatment is approached drew me in,” remarked Binkley. “It was such an exciting field to go into.”
As a resident in Diehn Lab, Binkley was exposed to the world of next generation sequencing, and was captivated by gene expression profiles, characterizing normal cells juxtaposed with tumor cells and mutations.
“Incorporating all this information to study cancer biology was very transformative,” he explained.
Being in a lab and learning from a diverse background of colleagues was a key moment that helped confirm Binkley’s path to becoming a principal investigator.
Now the head of his own lab, Binkley is devoted to studying the way genomic sequencing can affect an individual’s risk of developing cancer.
“I’m very excited about incorporating this idea of inherited risk into clinical care, because I think at least right now, it hasn’t widely been explored clinically,” he explained.
Creating an individualized risk profile for a patient can help tell therapists and faculty what forms of disease he or she is predisposed to developing, as well as the proper form of treatment he or she will respond to.
“I think studying inherited risk really inspires me to try to provide better understanding to steer patients and allow them to make decisions for their treatment that gives them the best possible outcomes,” Binkley affirmed.
Outside of the lab, he still plays some jazz on the side (tenor and soprano saxophone, primarily), loves to hit the Palo Alto trails, and is a devoted father to his two-year-old son. In the clinic, he specializes in treating patients with lymphoma, with an emphasis on a rare subtype called nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Committing to the idea of individualized care for patients, Binkley develops a personalized, comprehensive care plan, with the patient’s health/wellbeing and quality of life equally considered.
“I study genomics because I firmly believe that precision medicine is going to be the future,” Binkley stated. “I want to be able to improve the care that I give patients that I see.”
To learn more about Dr. Binkley’s research, visit Binkley Lab.