Archive for September, 2011


Sep 25 2011

Guest Blogger: Making Grants Go Further with Shared Resources

by at 11:44 am

Steve Byers headshot

Steve Byers

Having presented this past Wednesday’s Research Update Seminar titled “Making grants go further with Shared Resources,” Lou asked me to be a guest blogger this week and try to recap my talk.

Although unable to match Lou’s humor at the kickoff for the series on 9/14, (“When Weiners tweet, it does not end well”) I will try my best to at least be informative. I recognize that I may be preaching to the choir for the most part but I would like to emphasize a number of points I touched on in the presentation and some that I did not.

The Clinical Translational and Science Award (CTSA) that GUMC shares with a consortium of Washington, DC, area institutions has expanded our ability to offer state-of-the-art shared resources. The Translation Technologies and Resources component of the CTSA, which I co-direct with John Massari from Howard, greatly expands the resources available to basic, translational and clinical scientists at Georgetown, Howard, MedStar Health and the VA.

In addition we work closely with the other CTSA in town (Childrens National Medical Center) to offer technologies not available here at Lombardi, such as NextGen sequencing and genome-wide methylation analyses (contact GESR’s Dave Goerlitz for more info).

Shared Resources are regularly developing new approaches that are not yet offered as services. If you want to do something that is not listed, it may well be under development or, if widely applicable, could be developed. Just contact the SR manager. For example, in addition to the analyses mentioned above, GESR will shortly offer genome-wide and targeted siRNA synthetic lethal screening and TCSR will offer Dr. Schlegel’s cell culture technique for primary tumors and normal tissues as a service.

The new Nontherapeutic Recruitment Shared Resource (NTRSR) offers patient recruitment services for nontherapeutic human trials, meaning that investigators will simply budget for the service and will no longer need to hire their own full-time recruiters.

I also mentioned last week several new institutional funding mechanisms that could be utilized to support SR services. These include pilot ($25K) and collaborative ($100K) grants from the CTSA in which it is key is to emphasize a bona fide cross-institutional collaboration. The TTR component of the CTSA will shortly offer a small number of $10-20K awards for Shared Resource use and the development of new technologies within Shared Resources. Investigators and Shared Resources themselves could submit applications–an RFA will be posted soon.

If you want to learn more, there will be an open house symposium on the TTR this Tuesday, 9/27 at 12:30 pm at Howard University. Please feel free to join if you can — lunch will be served.

Finally, I can’t tell you how many times I have gone through PubMed to pull out Georgetown Lombardi Publications and realize that significant portions of the work were done in a Shared Resource that was not acknowledged. I have been as guilty of this as anyone. So I would like to remind everyone to appropriately acknowledge Shared Resource support in their publications and to provide Shared Resource Administration with the citations. Without this we cannot “claim” the resource was used in a particular paper. This has important implications for us when we seek CCSG or CTSA support.

Keep doing great science and have a wonderful week.

Howay the lads (look it up!)

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Sep 18 2011

Another Busy and Fulfilling Week

by at 8:38 pm

So, I got to my blog a little late this week., but in time to congratulate you Redskins’ fans. It’s been a long time since the ‘Skins were off to a quick start.

This is really a busy time of year for me and for all of us at Lombardi. We continue to set the foundation for our CCSG renewal with a number of meetings to clarify administrative, scientific and leadership structures, and things are shaping up very nicely.

We have a few ongoing major recruitments; some of you met with Mike Atkins last week and/or attended his seminar; he is a candidate for the vacant deputy director position. On Tuesday I participated in GUMC’s Doctors Speak Out program. We had a great turnout and attendees had many great questions about how genes and environments contribute to important diseases, including cancer. Later that day I attended a reception honoring Georgetown University’s new Rabbi, and subsequently attended a wonderful dinner honoring Jack DeGioia on the 10th anniversary of his assumption of the presidency of Georgetown University.

On Wednesday I enjoyed the opportunity to share my perspective on the current state of Lombardi at the Research Update Seminar (first of the year), along with Craig Jordan. That evening I headed up to New York to attend the ICBP symposium for holders of the NCI’s U54 grants in Systems Biology. On Thursday I spoke about our work with siRNA library screening to elucidate mechanisms of cell survival in ER-independent and anti-estrogen resistant breast cancer lines. I believe that our U54, which is headed by Bob Clarke, and includes many other Georgetown Lombardi investigators, including Subha Madhavan, Milt Brown, Lena Clarke and many others, is very much at the forefront of making systems biology approaches informative and useful.

Funny story: I hurried back to work Friday morning on the first train from NYC, because I wanted to hear Forrest White’s talk at noon. Little did I know that he had spoken at the same ICBP meeting I had attended before I got there, and had left the meeting before my talk on Thursday afternoon so he could get down to DC for his visit with us! I thought his technology and observations are very impressive, and enjoyed speaking with him after the seminar.

Later that afternoon I joined the Tumor Biology crowd on the 4th floor patio for a barbeque before Harriet and I headed to the Washington National Opera to see a performance of Tosca. So, of course we ran into Anton Wellstein and Anna Riegel, completing an intense and rewarding week of Lombardi-focused activities.

This coming week promises to be no less hectic or interesting. But right now I plan to kick back for a couple of hours and watch the Eagles play on national TV. They’ll have a hard time topping the pleasure the Phillies gave me on Saturday night, when they clinched their fifth consecutive National League East title. We Philly fans suffered for a long time, and are enjoying this brief moment in the sun!

Have a great week.

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Sep 10 2011

Finding Common Ground in Health Disparities Research

by at 12:21 pm

Welcome back from the summer.

The preposterously soggy weather this past week was certainly a reminder that days on the beach are rapidly receding into our memories. It has been a short week, but the big news for me has been the Health Disparities Retreat, which was held on Thursday afternoon, and was chaired by Lucile Adams-Campbell, with facilitation by Carolyn Hurley and Phyllis Magrab.

Judy Wang (from Cancer Control) and Beth Beck (from the Capital Breast Care Center) served as our rapporteurs following our two breakout sessions. It was well attended, and very productive, although there were more clinicians at the retreat from the Washington Hospital Center than from GUH! Also, since this is a cross-cutting initiative, it would have been great to see more of our bench scientists there.

Many thanks to Craig Jordan, Dick Schlegel and Jeff Toretsky for their participation. The retreat focused on two major areas: enhancing minority accruals to therapeutic clinical trials, and enhancing community outreach and community participation to support our research missions. A series of fabulous ideas emerged from these discussions. I am particularly excited about more deeply engaging our colleagues at the Washington Hospital Center to enhance minority accruals to therapeutic clinical trials. There are a number of barriers, some of which are clearly related to challenges faced by patients with multiple comorbidities. However, by working together we can test compelling clinical questions that are relevant to these patient populations using streamlined patient eligibility criteria  in in order to enhance accrual, while relying on our population scientists to help study barriers to clinical trial participation. I am committed to making this happen. It is vitally important because it is the right thing to do, and it is what NCI expects us to do as a CCSG-funded cancer center.

But, as important as this is, it is one of many compelling opportunities for us to consider. Thanks are owed to Lucile for making this happen. I urge all interested individuals to contact her to get involved in this important set of initiatives, and to attend future meetings that emerge from the Health Disparities action plan!

I also attended a fabulously interesting Molecular Oncology program meeting this week. The focus was on science, and Todd Waldman gave an exciting presentation  centered on his recent paper in Science, describing the role of STAG2 mutations on genome instability in glioblastomas and other cancers. He also showed us a Specific Aims page for a grant he is planning to submit, and he solicited feedback from the group about the general structure of the proposal. This is precisely how program meetings should proceed: excellent science, with an opportunity for lots of informal interactions, and a focus on how to best move the science forward. For example, it turns out that Usha Kasid studies another protein in the same cohesin complex Todd has explored, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this meeting leads to a collaboration. Thanks to Jeff Toretsky for organizing the meeting.

Again, even if you are not a member of the Molecular Oncology program, keep an eye out for future program meeting announcements in Lombardi Next Week and on the Lombardi calendar; they will contain the name(s) of the presenter(s) and the title(s) of their presentation(s). If all of the program meetings (for Molecular Oncology and for the other programs) are as good as this one, our cancer center will certainly become stronger.

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to remember and celebrate the life and accomplishments of Mark Smulson. He was truly a Georgetown Giant. For many years he was one of the true backbones of Lombardi’s radiation biology research, and he served as a program co-leader (with Tony Dritschilo and then Vicente Notario) for the CCSG-supported program. His science was immense, and his work brought honor to Lombardi and to Georgetown. I am sure you will join me in extending deepest condolences to Mark’s family, and in particular to his son Eric Smulson (, who is Georgetown University’s vice president for public affairs and senior advisor to the president of Georgetown.

I can remember meeting Mark (and Eric ) for the first time in 2008 at a reception in Warwick Evans; Mark was wheelchair-bound following very serious surgery, but his mind was sharp as ever. Eric was escorting him around. It was evident that Mark was very much a member and leader of this community, but the bond between father and son was evident and very heartwarming. Mark will be missed, but he also will be remembered, both for the quality of his science and the impact of his life.

Have a great weekend.

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Sep 05 2011

Restful Vacation: Not Meant to Be

by at 5:48 pm

I hope you had a restful Labor Day Weekend!

Since summer is winding down, our family decided to take a week at the shore  (or “beach” to those of you from DelMarVa) the week before last. We went to Long Beach Island (aka LBI), north of Atlantic City, where our family has rented summer places off and on for many years. It’s always been our family’s “happy place.”

This year, however, our restful vacation was not meant to be. Within the span of one week, almost all of the kids contracted either a GI bug or food poisoning. Then, of course, we had an earthquake, as we followed the track of hurricane Irene, which was basically heading right at us. There was a mandatory evacuation of the island, starting that Friday at 8 am, so we packed up the car to leave. And then it was my turn to get sick!  Fortunately, I’ve recovered and am back at work. However, LBI has lost some of its luster for me and my family.

I have a lot going on in the coming few weeks. First of all, with the new academic year, everything heats up, as people return from vacation. Moreover, I was so energized by working on a response to the new targetsU01 RFA that I am about to take another dip into responding to the program announcement of the NCI “Provocative Questions” initiative.  If you take a look at the PA, I bet you’ll find a question that makes sense for your research.

I’ll be speaking at the Medical Center Caucus this week, which should prove to be an interesting experience. I am also preparing for the October Board of Directors meeting to describe Lombardi’s expanding relationship with MedStar. We have made quite a bit of progress, and while the visible signs of change are still modest, rest assured that a solid foundation is being laid for a productive long-term collaboration.

Now, I need some help. On September 13, I am part of a panel for the Medical Center’s “Doctors Speak Out” panel discussion series. I have been asked to speak (without slides) on genes, environment interactions and cancer. Bearing in mind that this is a lay audience, how should I explain this complexity though a few good examples? Brca1 offers a good example of a genetically defined risk that is not apparently subject to much environmental influence, and the same is true for many pediatric cancers.

But are there useful examples of more balance among genetic and environmental risk factors, where both components are fairly well proven? Colorectal cancer makes the grade genetically, but the environmental influencers have been widely hailed but never conclusively proven. Lung cancer seems to me to pose the opposite dilemma; the environmental influence (I.e., smoking) is incontrovertible, but the genetic influences have not really been nailed down to the point of making definitive conclusions. I am open to any and all suggestions!

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