May Physician of the Month: Daniel Stover

new-Daniel Stover MD

The start of Daniel Stover’s scientific and medical education began when he was 15 and went to work as a volunteer in a lab at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

The precocious Upper Arlington High School freshman joined the lab of Jas Lang, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery as a volunteer researcher.

“I hadn’t even had a biology class yet, and didn’t know what DNA or cells were, but [Lang] agreed to have me come into his lab to work, and I learned so much; he’s such a great mentor,” says Stover, who is now 37. Lang’s lab was immersed in research on p16, a tumor suppressor protein that regulates cell growth.

“Back then, there were patients on the first several floors of the old James and research labs on the top few floors,” Stover says. “I’d ride the elevators with people who you could clearly see were cancer patients and were undergoing treatment, and that proximity of research and patient care so close together really struck me.”

The lessons he learned in the lab—and on the elevators—made a deep impression on the high schooler and guided his education and career. Stover earned a degree in molecular biology at Princeton University before moving on to medical school and a residency at Vanderbilt University and then a medical oncology and research fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

“I always knew I wanted to be an oncologist, but wasn’t sure what area,” he says. “I began to lean toward breast cancer because a lot of breast cancer patients have a long-term relationship with their physician, and I like that aspect, that connection with your patients. And, there are a lot of exciting questions in breast cancer research to answer.”

Stover returned to the OSUCCC – James toward the end of 2017 as a breast medical oncologist and physician-scientist in the Translational Therapeutics Program. His research utilizes genomic and computational analyses (also known as “big data") of patient tumor samples to determine the most precise treatment options.

His return makes him a fourth generation Buckeye. His parents, Stephan and Mary, are Ohio State graduates, and his grandfather, Wilmer W. Stover, was an administrator in the College of Education. His great grandfather, Wilmer G. Stover, PhD, joined the Department of Plant Pathology in 1910 and was later honored with the establishment of the Blair F. Janson and Wilmer G. Stover Scholarship Fund, which provides travel grants for undergraduate and graduate students.

Daniel Stover is busy establishing a legacy of his own at Ohio State, with his current research focusing on the analysis of liquid blood biopsies drawn from patients with metastatic triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). In this rare and difficult to treat type of breast cancer, the three most common receptors that fuel the cancer—estrogen, progesterone and HER-2—are not present.

Traditionally, doctors have utilized a more invasive surgical procedure to procure tissue biopsy samples from the tumors of TNBC patients. The liquid biopsy is easier and less painful to acquire.

“We took blood samples from 164 women with metastatic TNBC and showed that we could see what was going on in their tumors,” Stover says. What they saw were different levels of tumor DNA in the blood.

“We found that women with a higher tumor DNA content in their circulation didn’t do as well. If we can identify the patients with the more aggressive form of TNBC, perhaps we can treat them in a different way and direct them toward specific clinical trials sooner.”

TNBC patients with lower levels of the tumor DNA in their circulation might be able to be treated more conservatively and still have better outcomes, according to Stover, who plans to conduct a second clinical trial, drawing liquid biopsies and analyzing the tumor DNA from scores more women.

In the new trial, improved genetic sequencing algorithms will allow Stover and his lab to take an even closer look at the genetic mutations in a TNBC patient’s tumor. Because the liquid biopsy is so easy to acquire, physicians will be able to take samples before treatment and then again at various stages.

“That could tell us how the patient is responding.”

Stover and his wife, Megan, have two children, Henry, 2, and Benjamin, who was born in January. Megan Stover, MD, is an Ob/Gyn who specializes in high-risk pregnancies. The Stovers live about a mile away from where Daniel grew up, and where his parents still reside. So, Stover has come home again to Upper Arlington and The James and is fulfilling the goal he set for himself when he was 15.

“The James has always been in the back of my mind. The James has a special place in my heart—I grew up here,” he says. “And, the trajectory of the research here and the new James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute have created this growing national reputation that make it one of the best places to be.”