Archive for July, 2012


Jul 22 2012

Car Talk

by at 11:38 pm

So, we could run, but could not hide. A few weeks ago, when Washington was devastated by powerful storms, our family was on vacation at the New Jersey shore. It was very hot, but we never saw a raindrop. And, miraculously our block was spared any damage, so when we got home, everything was in order. On top of that we were certainly aware of the potential for damage, given the Lombardi S level flooding that had occurred.

We felt very lucky – until last Tuesday. After all the storms we have had, there was a brief thundershower in the late afternoon. I noticed it outside my office window, and thought nothing of it. I left the office at around 6:30 pm and walked to my car in Lot E, and saw a tree branch on my car. Figuring it had blown down during the shower, I went to brush it off the hood of my car. But, to my dismay I noted that the windshield had been demolished by the branch, with a nine-iron divot taken out right in the driver’s line of sight. Believe me, the branch wasn’t all that big, but it must have hit the windshield with enormous force — and it damaged the hood as well (see picture below). I am grateful that I wasn’t in the car, or driving when it happened.

My car will be in the shop for about two weeks, and I expect  it will make a speedy recovery. That’s the one good thing about auto damage. If nobody is hurt, a full recovery is likely, though it may cost some money. And if the car can’t be fixed, your insurance will usually pay for you to get a replacement fairly quickly and painlessly. If only the same were true for our patients!

People sometimes view health care the same way we view auto repair. Why can’t doctors have the diagnostics and spare parts that are needed, and why aren’t there guys like the ones on NPR’s ‘Car Talk’ who can remotely hear a few descriptive lines about a problem and humorously provide an accurate diagnosis and a prescription for action with apparent infallibility?

I guess this is the difference between professions based in engineering from those based in biology. Biology imposes so many variations, and so much is remains unknown. However, we continue to make progress in closing that knowledge gap, and with every scientific breakthrough we get closer to the level of accuracy we desire. (For example, among other recent successes, both Dick Schlegel and Leena Clarke had good news in the past couple of weeks regarding manuscripts they submitted to high-impact journals.)

I hope you stay dry and safe this week, and get good news about your papers too. And don’t park under a tree!

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Jul 15 2012

Another S-level Flood

by at 10:56 pm

The big news of the week was another flood in the S-level. I met Thursday with some of the researchers and staff who were affected to discuss ways to mitigate the damages to the important science that is done there. Much work remains to be done, but significant progress has been made. I want to reiterate my gratitude to everyone who has worked to help everyone get back to work.

Besides dealing with the flood aftermath, most of the week was spent polishing drafts for the CCSG competitive renewal, namely the first draft of the Director’s Overview and the Essential Characteristics sections. Even though there are still 10 months remaining before the grant is due, we are working hard to get a high-quality, thoroughly reviewed set of drafts ready by the end of the summer in advance of our External Advisory Committee meeting in September. My sections will be reviewed in more detail on Tuesday. Meanwhile, I now am reading the initial drafts of many other sections, most of which will be formally reviewed this week as well. This will be a busy week!

By the way, my young patient with metastatic colon cancer came in for a visit last week. He has fully recovered from his surgery, and feels better than he has for a long time. He is ready to resume chemotherapy, but now with the addition of an anti-VEGF antibody to enhance the effects of chemotherapy; this will now be safe since the primary cancer has been removed. He will have a PET/CT scan done in the next week or two to provide a new baseline for therapy. We’ll see how he is doing when he has a repeat scan after an additional two months of therapy. So far, so good. But, he has a long way to go. It sure puts the challenges of running a department and a cancer center in perspective.

Have a very nice week. Stay cool and dry if you can.


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Jul 06 2012

Guest Blogger: “That Was the Week That Was”

by at 3:43 pm

Robert Clarke, PhD, DSc

This week we had record-setting high temperatures and a “derecho” that left us with downed trees, blocked roads, and  no power, air conditioning, Internet, or TV at home (and as of six days later still showing no signs of power restoration).

Meanwhile, here at GUMC, we are contending with migration to Google Mail and Google Calendar (not entirely trouble-free but better than another derecho or earthquake), ongoing GMS struggles, and a deadline for a draft of the Breast Cancer Program write-up that passed uncomfortably into the rear view mirror (it’s coming Carolyn – honest!).

With respect to the last matter, Claudine Isaacs and I finally got a very rough draft together and, in the process, we were reminded of the very impressive quality and breadth of the capabilities of our program members.  While preparing a report like this can seem like something of a chore at the time, delving into the finer details of the members’ work in a different context (i.e., different from the excitement and engagement in the oral presentations at our BC Program meetings), offers the opportunity to see the research across the entire program with fresh eyes and to appreciate its potential from a different perspective.

For those of you not so familiar with our program, we have three primary research themes. The first defines the relatively broad area of drug resistance in breast cancer, although we have an historic (and continued) focus on endocrine resistance. With Craig Jordan’s DoD Center of Excellence, the U54-funded CCSB program (Center for Cancer Systems Biology), and work in several other laboratories (for example, Anna Riegel’s innovative work on AIB1 and Bob Glazer’s work on SCA1), there are many interesting and diverse approaches ongoing in this area. Sandy Swain has also led some major NSABP studies (B28 and B38) that relate to this theme, albeit with a greater focus on cytotoxic chemotherapies. I don’t how she has time for all this research, since she’s also director of the Washington Cancer Institute and the current ASCO president!

The second theme is directed more at understanding some of the factors that affect breast cancer development and progression, with a focus on familial breast cancers and BRCA1 and BRCA2. Eliot Rosen has done some very nice work here and he is now developing BRCA1 mimetic drugs. Insoo Bae has shown a role for BRCA1 in protecting cells from reactive oxygen species. Claudine is very active in this theme, and is collaborating with folks in the Cancer Prevention and Control program.

Our third research theme with some very interesting and exciting work looks at the effects of nutritional and environmental factors on breast cancer. Mary Beth Martin continues to find intriguing ways for cells to get their estrogen receptors activated that include calcium, some heavy metals, and some anions like nitrite. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke has some new data showing the importance of epigenetic regulation in maintaining the effects of early life exposure on mammary tumor susceptibility across subsequent generations. Priscilla Furth’s work to develop important new mouse models to explore the role of ER and aromatase expression in the mammary gland is also breaking new ground.

While I can’t mention everyone (and apologies to those I did not – will do better next time), I hope this has given you some insight into the work that is ongoing in the Breast Cancer Program. Good luck with your own work and especially with those grant applications!

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