Archive for March, 2010


Mar 19 2010

A new spring in my step

by at 3:45 pm

At the end of last week I was at an exciting meeting to kick off a new U54 grant for a Center for Cancer Systems Biology led by Bob Clarke. This award focuses on breast cancer and includes investigators from Lombardi, Virginia Tech’s VBBI and Fox Chase Cancer Center. This is one of only ten such centers in the United States and represents continuing evidence of Lombardi’s commitment to further develop its world class capabilities in both breast cancer and systems biology.

I’m lucky enough to have a project in this effort. Rochelle Nasto, a visiting graduate student in my lab from Drexel University’s biomedical engineering program, has constructed an estrogen receptor network-based siRNA library and is screening breast cancer cell lines to identify determinants of survival and drug resistance. I guess it’s hard to come to Lombardi and avoid being bitten by the breast cancer research bug. Congratulations to Bob and all of our colleagues for successfully competing for this important mechanism of research support.

On Monday, President DeGioia hosted a delegation on Monday from Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which also happens to be where Bob Clarke completed his graduate work. A small delegation of us from Georgetown visited Queen’s University last October to discuss collaborations related to our institution’s respective cancer centers, focusing on G-DOC and related endeavors, with an initial emphasis on our shared interests and strengths in gastrointestinal cancer. The meeting this week was a follow-up to strngthen our collaborations and define future directions.

No blog would be complete without my latest Avon Walk update. I’m happy to report I purchased new running shoes and I’ve even used them. The Lombardi/CBCC team is up to 33 members and going strong. My longest walk thus far has been eight miles, but that was in my old sneakers. I expect greatly improved performance now that I’m properly outfitted. This weekend promises to provide no excuses to prevent me from tacking on extra miles to my total. Plus, I suppose I have less reason to watch the NCAA tournament now that the Hoyas have been bounced. We’ll get them next year.

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Mar 04 2010

Pounding the Pavement

by at 12:01 pm

So this morning I decided to walk to work so I bundled myself up a little bit and took a nice 1.5 mile walk downhill from my house to the campus. On the way, I ran into Beth Beck, who runs the CBCC. She was out walking her dogs and we shared our excitement over the Lombardi/CBCC Avon Walk team being up to 27 people. So we’re getting closer to our goal of 50 members. Going from 23 last year to 50 this year is certainly a large increase, but it’s important for us to show our commitment to this important mission.

On Tuesday, I joined a meeting of the Men’s Event Kickoff Committee at Morton’s Steakhouse on Connecticut Avenue. I had a chance to describe some of our exciting work in prostate cancer. I was delighted to emphasize the work of Chip Albanese and colleagues to employ sophisticated NMR spectroscopy to characterize developing prostate cancers in appropriate animal models. Since this was a fundraising activity, I mentioned how expensive it is to maintain these instruments and replace them with state-of-the-art units to keep research on the cutting edge. Attendees immediately lost their appetites but were excited to know that we have world class research that will improve our ability to prevent and fight prostate cancer.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Friends of Cancer Research Cancer Leadership Awards Reception at the Hotel Monaco. Awardees included Senator Dan Inouye, Nancy Brinker, the new NIH Director Francis Collins, and Commissioner of the FDA, Margart Hamburg. Many cancer center directors attended this award reception and it was good to see old friends and to be inspired passion of so many people dedicated to the cause. Ellen Sigal, Chair and Founder of FOCR, and Marlene Marlek, President of FOCR (who was once an oncology nurse at Georgetown University Hospital), have been inspirational and highly effective advocates for cancer research and it has been a pleasure to be able work with them.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s 8th Annual Ian Peter Rennert Lecture by Richard Gorlick from the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. He is an exceptional investigator and I’m sure his presentation on “Osteosarcoma: Its Biology Needs to Define New Treatments” will be of interest to a number of our faculty and staff.

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Mar 01 2010

Learning the meaning of petaflops

by at 8:35 am

I began my training this morning for the Avon Walk by taking 1 hour walk before the sun rose. My goal is to put in a minimum of 10 hours per week walking and increasing it as we get closer to the walk on May 1st and 2nd. I was delighted to receive Jeanne Mandelblatt’s email yesterday informing us that the Lombardi team is now up to 23 walkers. This is one more than we had last year and there’s still time for the team to grow. Since we’d like to raise significantly more money than we did last year, I think it would be great to increase the number of walkers to 40 or 50. So there’s still time to sign up!

I had an interesting vist to Oak Ridge National Laboratories on Wednesday. As many of you know, Georgetown University has a memorandum of understanding with ORNL related to systems bio-medicine. Several Lombardi faculty have collaborative research activities with ORNL colleagues funded through this collaboration. I was there this week to discuss opportunities for deepening collaborative ties with ORNL with an emphasis on systems bio-medicine as it relates to cancer in general, and on the G-DOC. It was a busy day of meetings so I didn’t get to do much touring of the facility, which contain some historically significant buildings and pieces of equipment – including one of the first atomic reactors. ORNL is also home to the largest and third largest computers in the world. The largest one, called Jaguar, has 2.3 “petaflops” of processing power, which means it can make 2.3 quadrillion calculations per second. As far as I can tell, it is created by placing 10,000 dual-processor laptops in parallel. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the task, it requires 2 gigawatts of power per year just to keep the machine cool and an additional 7 megawatts per year to supply power to the equipment. They plan to increase the capacity of their computer another hundred- to thousand-fold over the next decade. It it sounds as though they may need a nuclear plant to provide sufficient power for the equipment.

Interesting factoids aside, ORNL possesses exceptional high-performance computing capabilities. It will be interesting and potentially very valuable to identify ways we can collaborate with them to analyze increasingly complex data sets, such as integrated clinical and molecular databases of cancer.

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