Eng heads a lab team of math-
ematicians and statisticians work-
ing on standardization issues. He
calls them “the no-fun police”
because they vet the work of oth-
er scientists, asking questions
like “How do you know that what
you’ve found isn’t just a coinci-
“We help drive a lot of ques-
tions and frame them,” Eng says,
adding that he’s “wired” from the
Japanese side of his family (his
mother) “to always improve pro-
cesses.” Business acumen comes
from his father’s Chinese heri-
tage. “If the boss fired me, I could
always go to work for IBM,” he
It’s unlikely that an IBM career
would make him nearly as happy
as he is right now, following a life-long interest in “figuring out cool
things to do with science.” But
why choose cancer as a research
subject? “I came up in mathematics and statistics, where we talk
about solving great problems that
are usually a bit esoteric,” Eng
explains. “When I worked on my
first cancer trial, it was obvious
that cancer was a great problem
with immediate impact on people.” Figuring out what the great
problems in cancer are and how
to attack them is, he explains, the
main contribution of his research
With a brain perpetually on
high alert, Eng uses downtime
to learn more, recently taking up boxing and jiu-jitsu. He
enjoys travel to places like Tokyo
with his longtime girlfriend, Sara
Schmitt, whom he met when both
were Park School students. She
is a poet-cum-IT executive who
lives in Madison. Their romance
thrives and survives the distance.
In Eng’s Allentown home, a miniature bull terrier named Clio is a
more constant companion.
We asked the researcher, who
is slated to deliver a TED Talk
this spring on behalf of Roswell,
what else moves and motivates
What scares you?
Speaking in public, like that
TED Talk thing. And I don’t like
being interviewed, talking about
I don’t like a lot of inefficiency. That’s a very Japanese thing,
I suppose. I always want to quantify things.
What makes you laugh?
I like really stupid puns. I also
like really complicated puns.
Cocktail or beer?
Definitely a beer at Ulrich’s.
Would you rather stay home
and cook or eat out?
Wish I could say I cook, but
I can’t, so eat out is the choice
Name one place you’d like to
Can’t think of one. If I want to
go someplace, I go.
Tell us who you’d invite to an
ideal dinner party?
I would pick Takashi Muraka-
mi, the Japanese contemporary
artist [his first large-scale instal-
lation in Western New York was
at the Albright-Knox last fall], and
the chef Masaharu Morimoto [one
of his eponymous restaurants
is in Manhattan’s meatpacking
district] for a good game of “who
wore it best” since people often
comment on our physical resem-
blance. I always get some double
takes when we eat at Morimoto
NYC. Plus, I like their work!
Someone gives you $1 million—what do you do with it?
Every cancer is defined by its
genetic code, its DNA, its RNA.
We’ve had the human genome for
fifteen years. We know what all
the players are. My team has been
designing an effort to sequence
lots of patients. Right now, this
is a huge effort across the country. We talk about moonshots like
the APOLLO missions: It’s a race
to sequence as many cancers as
possible to put any one tumor
into some context. Roswell has
all the elements: we have a team
that knows how to sequence, we
have great clinical teams. If we
had a million tomorrow, we could
sequence every willing case. We
would build an encyclopedia of
these cancers that everyone at
the institute can pore over and
come up with ways to attack that
Maria Scrivani writes about local history
and people who make a difference.
Kevin Eng: Mad about science
BY MARIA SCRIVANI
His personal mission is to help craft the next generation of cancer researchers
in Buffalo. With infectious passion and leavening wit, Kevin Eng, PhD, rebuts
any notion that science is boring and math attracts grinds. “I like learning
stuff,” he says. Eng, a graduate of The Park School, returned in 2013 to take
a job at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, after earning bachelor’s, master’s,
and doctoral degrees in statistics from Brown University and the University
of Wisconsin-Madison. During postdoctoral training at Madison, he studied
statistical genomics, bioinformatics, and ovarian cancer, perfect training for his
current job as assistant professor of oncology in the department of biostatistics
and bioinformatics at Roswell.