Archive for July, 2011


Jul 31 2011

Feeling Optimistic Despite Federal Financial Pressures

by at 11:27 pm

So, even though the dog days of August are upon us, there’s no reason to escape from the heat. We enjoyed the weekend by visiting Mt. Vernon, which was amazingly impressive. The myth of George Washington is so powerful that it is very useful to catch a glimpse of the man behind the myth, and to understand more fully his remarkable life and work. He truly was a giant.

I have been busily working on a variety of projects. Most notably, I spent Thursday and Friday at the NCI Translational Science meeting, which was held at the Marriott Wardman hotel. I have never really found these types of meetings to be terribly useful in the past, but this one had a number of interesting sessions. It is evident that there is a lot of interest in the development of comprehensive databases of the type exemplified by G-DOC. Between our efforts in that arena, and the power of our relationship with Indivumed to collect, process and store patient specimens, we remain in an excellent position to make distinctive contributions to the field.

I chaired a session on the use of ‘omics technologies to inform translational immunotherapy efforts, and it was a stimulating 90 minutes. The field of immunology–in fact the entire field of cancer research– has never been more full of opportunities to transform cancer prevention, detection and therapy.

Even though financial pressures will undoubtedly impact on the resources available through NIH and other governmental agencies to support research over the next few years, I truly believe “the train has left the station;” this work will move forward because too much momentum has been generated throughout the extramural community. Georgetown Lombardi can respond by emphasizing collaborations that leverage our intellectual assets and unique attributes.

A number of groups are actively working to put together P01s, U01s, and multi-principal-investigator grants. I hope everybody looks for such opportunities to create projects and discoveries in which the whole is truly greater that the sum of its parts.

Have a great week.

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Jul 24 2011

No Escaping the Summer Heat

by at 9:09 pm

I hope everyone has survived the remarkable heat wave we’ve had for the past week or so.

It was a quiet week since so many folks are on vacation, so I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of work. Of course, we’ve carved out some time for fun too. Two weekends ago we had a truly thrilling experience. We went up to New York City to see the Broadway Musical, “Sister Act,” which is based on the movie of the same name. The musical score is by Alan Menken, who co-wrote many of the big Disney musical movies and shows (Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and many more). The show is terrific. However, the real attraction for us is one of the show’s featured actresses, Marla Mindelle, who is our niece. Marla plays the role of Sister Mary Roberts, and does a wonderful job – and even sings the “11:00 number,” a ballad called  ‘The Life I’ve Never Known.” It was a special experience for us.

This past weekend was less dramatic, but lots of fun as we spent time in Baltimore visiting friends and family. And, on Saturday, I played golf (we had an early tee time and drank lots of water, as the temperature got into the 100-degree range by the time we were on the back nine). The nice thing about playing in horrible weather conditions is that I have a built in excuse for my score!

This past Monday I participated in a senior review panel of candidates for NIH’s Lasker awards, which are designed to attract talented young investigators to spend time at NIH during their “assistant professor” years. The rest of the week was highlighted by beginning to write a grant to respond the the NIH U01 for new target discovery, sprinkled among various meetings.

I had an interesting Friday, as I foolishly had agreed to allow our sons to switch vehicles. This meant that my younger son now gets to drive the family’s 13-year-old Toyota 4Runner, but because the vehicle is in my name, I had to take it for DC inspection and registration. The process only took about four hours, most of it spent either waiting in line at the inspection station on Half Street or in the Georgetown branch DMV office. Root canal would have been more fun.

This was a painful reminder that it is time to transfer the car’s title to my son David so he can enjoy the experience without my involvement. I am looking forward to the coming week, which can only represent an improvement over Friday’s activities!

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Jul 18 2011

Hats Off to Our Colleagues

by at 5:30 am

I’d like to dedicate my blog this week to congratulating several of our Georgetown Lombardi colleagues who have who have been promoted to associate professor or professor, have recently been granted tenure, or have transferred to tenure track since January 2011.

These include (in alphabetical order): Lucile Adams Campbell, PhD; Luciane Cavalli, PhD; Claudine Issaacs, MD; Michael Johnson, PhD; Minetta Liu, MD; Marc Schwartz, PhD; and Jeffrey Toretsky, MD.

Lucile Adams-Campbell has been granted tenure. She is professor of oncology, associate dean of Community Health and Outreach, and associate director of Minority Health and Health Disparities Research. Lucile is well-known for her work in epidemiology, specializing in community health research, interventions, and outreach. Among her other accolades, Lucile is a member of the Institute of Medicine.

Luciane Cavalli was approved to transfer to tenure track. A molecular cytogeneticist by training, she is an assistant professor in the department of oncology whose main research interests is the study of genomic instability in breast cancer. We have particularly benefited from her interest in cancer disparities in African American and Latina women.

Claudine Isaacs, who was promoted to professor and granted tenure, is professor in the departments of medicine and oncology and has served as Breast Cancer program clinical co-leader since 2001. Claudine’s research interests include genetic testing, breast cancer treatment and prevention strategies for women at high risk of breast cancer. She is also co-Director of the Jess and Mildred Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research.

Michael Johnson was recently promoted to associate professor of oncology with tenure. His research interests include proteases, invasion and metastasis and breast cancer progression. Michael is also interested in the pharmacogenetics of drugs used in cancer therapy.

Minetta Liu was promoted from research track to tenure track. She is associate professor of medicine and oncology. A member of the Breast Cancer program since 2001, Minetta is heavily involved in translational research with a focus on the use of microarray gene analysis in identifying the molecular mechanisms responsible for determining chemotherapy sensitivity versus resistance.

Marc Schwartz has been promoted to full professor of oncology. He was previously awarded tenure. He leads Georgetown Lombardi’s Cancer Control program and is director of behavioral research. Marc has published extensively in the field of genetic testing, cancer risk assessment and medical decision-making.

Jeff Toretsky has also been promoted to full professor of oncology. Jeff is program leader of Georgetown Lombardi’s newly formed Molecular Oncology program. Dividing his time between Lombardi’s pediatric outpatient clinic and his lab, Jeff is interested in rare pediatric hematology diseases and childhood cancer, particularly osteosarcoma, synovial sarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma.

As we have done in the past, I look forward to hosting a reception to recognize these accomplishments in September. More details will follow as we get closer to the date. Please join me in congratulating each of these wonderful colleagues on their accomplishments.



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Jul 11 2011

Settling into Summer

by at 1:09 am

I hope everybody has enjoyed a lovely summer weekend. Life has slowed down a bit for me so far in the summer, and I have been able to catch up on a lot of tasks. We had a lovely July 4 weekend with our family, and the four-day work week that follows a holiday always makes it feel as if we had a mini-vacation.

However, there is still a lot going on! On Tuesday, a group of us (including Michael Vander Hoek, Ellen McLaughlin, Carolyn Hurley and Bob Brier) met with Linda Weiss, Hasnaa Shafik and several of their colleagues from the Cancer Centers branch of the NCI. We updated them regarding our progress as we commence the ramp-up to our CCSG resubmission, and also described our recent EAB meeting. We received genuinely helpful information that will inform our activities going forward, along with a clear sense that they feel we are headed on the right track. It was a very good meeting.

On Wednesday, I was honored to speak at the Hyundai Hope on Wheels event in the Lombardi atrium. This is the eighth year that Hyundai has provided support for pediatric cancer survivorship work at Lombardi, to a total of $360,000. Aziza Shad has been a recipient before, and this year’s award of $50,000 will support the work of Scott Myers. Congratulations to Scott! The event was well attended by patients, their families, staff and representatives from local Hyundai dealers. One dealer is actually from the Pittsburgh area, and is Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA). He spoke from the heart about his passion for this cause and we look forward to welcoming him back to Georgetown Lombardi in the future to learn more about what we do.

The keynote speaker was Brianna Commerford, a 12-year old survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who is the charity’s national spokesperson. She is a remarkable and inspiring young lady.

Later that day, I chaired a meeting to discuss our possible response to a U01 request for applications to develop ways to identify and validate drug targets based upon the TCGA and related initiates. We have remarkable depth in these areas, and the discussion was really invigorating. We’ll certainly submit one or two responses to this RFA.

Harriet and I were in North Jersey this weekend to attend the wedding of one of our nephews, so I spent more time inside than outside this weekend. I hope you all didn’t make the same mistake!

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Jul 02 2011

Feeling Great Pride — Personally and Professionally

by at 2:07 pm

As we head into the long holiday weekend I am concluding a great stretch, both personally and professionally. As many of you know, our oldest son graduated in May from veterinary school, and then got married three weeks ago. Our daughter and son-in-law went to a conference in Norway, leaving us to care for our 9-month-old grandson. I had forgotten how much work that can be, but the time with him was precious.

Finally, our youngest son finished his first of medical school and is now on a medical mission in Haiti. His posts are heartbreaking and inspiring. We are very proud of his commitment and service.

Meanwhile, Georgetown Lombardi continues to make progress on a number of fronts. Congratulations to Todd Waldman on the acceptance of a paper in Science describing STAG2 mutations as causes of genome instability.

We are making considerable progress in organizing our programs and shared resources as we continue the process of preparing to resubmit for our CCSG grant. I am grateful to Carolyn Hurley for her leadership in organizing this effort with the expert assistance of Ellen McLaughlin. We are all looking forward to our visit to the NCI on Tuesday to discuss our progress and get their feedback on next steps.

In the meantime enjoy what promises to be a great weekend for relaxation and outdoor fun.



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