An assistant professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Boutz grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., and as a kid, he was all-in on science. An aspiring paleontologist, a frequent visitor to science museums, and a budding naturalist and biologist, he liked to stomp around in ponds and investigate species in the shadows of the brilliant Sandia Mountains. Boutz made it to the big time when he was accepted as a post-doctoral scientist at the renowned Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There, he studied with one of the most prominent RNA biologists in the world and was immersed for the first time in the language of cancer biology.
He had days early on when “I had no idea what they were talking about,” Boutz says, laughing, but he grew into the job and became part of a team that published an important paper on glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer. They discovered a gene essential for some normal cells but whose loss benefits tumors.
The brain cancer project set him on a new path as a cancer investigator, landing at Wilmot. He’s currently focused on prostate cancer RNA to develop more potent treatments.
Boutz brings two key skills rolled into one — molecular and computational biology — which allow him to dive into the profound gene changes that drive cancer cells and to map individual genomes to look for the most personalized treatments possible. From a scientific perspective, cancer cells are “almost superhuman,” he says, for their extraordinary ability to grow and evolve despite obstacles. The holy grail is to restrain the genes responsible for sending normal cells down the dark road toward cancer formation.