Archive for January, 2013


Jan 27 2013

View From on High

by at 8:19 pm

Greetings from 35,000 feet!

As I write this week’s blog Harriet and I are flying back home from Tampa. I gave Grand Rounds at Moffitt Cancer Center on Friday, and had a chance to meet with a number of people, including Alan List, the relatively new CEO. Alan and I were colleagues at the AACR/ASCO Clinical Methods Workshop in Vail, Colorado for a couple of years; he is a fabulous translational researcher who has made important contributions to the field of myelodysplasia. I had a great time and was mightily impressed by Moffitt’s wonderful facilities as well. We stayed at the home of old friends Bob and Abby Gatenby. Bob is an old colleague from Philadelphia, and Abby worked with Harriet for a couple of years. And our oldest boys were at the same school for high school. So, the bonds are pretty deep.

We had a nice work-related dinner on Friday and spent Saturday touring the area. We were absolutely blown away by the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg; it is in a beautiful new building, and the collection is breathtaking. And we had one of the best guided tours ever. It was as if time was standing still, or at least warped (see photo below).

Harriet and I

That evening we went to a restaurant that is an institution in Tampa, a steak house called Bern’s. The interior decorations can only be described as mid-nineteenth century “bordello”, but the place is over the top in every respect, including its astonishing wine list, meal choices, and unique touches such as a separate upstairs dessert bar, replete with table-specific communication devices to request musical favorites from the on-site pianist. And, the food was very good!  The neighborhood was hopping because of a yearly festival known as Gasparilla. There were hordes of costumed folks milling about, many of them in pirate costumes. All in all, it was a fun evening with great friends.

The work week was busy as always. The MLK celebration at the Kennedy Center on Sunday evening was great, and we were riveted to the TV on Monday, watching the inauguration and associated festivities. The rest of the week was consumed by meetings, clinic and two work-related dinners. Thursday’s clinic was preceded by the thesis committee meeting of one of the Georgetown-NIH PhD candidates, and I had the privilege of chairing his committee. One of the very best things about moving from a freestanding cancer center to a university-based matrix cancer center has been the interaction with students. I really enjoy it.  After clinic on Thursday we hustled off to the airport to get to Tampa, leaving behind frigid weather for 72 degree, sunny skies. Did I mention that we passed by at least three beautiful golf courses but I didn’t have time to take advantage of the opportunity and the beautiful weather? I’ll be dreaming about that series of lost chances for at least the next week!

Have a great week, everyone!

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Jan 20 2013

A Tribute to MLK

by at 2:32 pm

I am writing this blog on Sunday, as Harriet and I prepare to go to the Kennedy Center for Georgetown’s annual Rev. Martin Luther King celebration. This is always an inspiring event, and we very much look forward to it.

We celebrated our anniversary on Saturday, staying at the Historic Rosemont Inn in Berryville, Va, as a gift from our children. We visited a nearby winery, and learned that there now are more than 250 wineries in Virginia, some of which now make outstanding, world-class wines. We did not know it before we got there, but Rosemont is the former home of Senator Harry Byrd; we stayed in a cottage that had served as his office. In 1954, his political organization controlled Virginia politics. Senator Byrd promoted the “Southern Manifesto” opposing integrated schools, which was signed in 1956 by more than one hundred southern officeholders. In 1956 he called for what became known as Massive Resistance. This was a group of laws, passed in 1958, intended to prevent integration of the schools. You can read more about this troubling period at this link.   Learning this history made the juxtaposition of the Saturday and Sunday events more than somewhat ironic for us. But, we had no ambivalence about our dinner at the nearby L’Auberge Provencale in Boyce. It was a genuinely wonderful meal.

The work week was plenty busy. I did have an out of town engagement on Tuesday, but spent the rest of the week in meetings. On Wednesday morning I had a make-up clinic because I expected to be at a MedStar sponsored symposium at MedStar Washington Hospital Center on Thursday afternoon; however, it turns out that the flu epidemic at the Hospital Center is so severe that the symposium was postponed. Moral of the story: get your flu vaccine…

Going back to Wednesday, there was a joint meeting of the ET and CPC programs that identified a number of opportunities for collaborations.I also met Dr. Lisa Boyle, a thyroid cancer surgeon who has been at the Hospital Center and is now the Vice President for Medical Affairs at MGUH, succeeding Steve Evans, who is now the VPMA for all of MedStar Health. On Wednesday evening we had a very nice reception in the Lombardi Atrium to welcome Beppe Giaccone to Georgetown; it is great to have him here.

So, my Thursday suddenly opened up. This gave me time I need to complete the review of the CCSG application of another cancer center, which I site visit next month. I also am working on the competitive renewal of my R01; we have had some exciting results, but have a lot to do before its due date in March. In CCSG-related news we had a review by external advisors of the Molecular Oncology program’s write up, and we received much positive feedback and many helpful suggestions. We had a different external review of the Director’s sections by other advisors on Friday, with generally positive feedback.We still have a ton of work to do, but are light-years ahead of where we were at a similar point in 2009.

I hope you enjoyed your long weekend, and that you have a great week.

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Jan 14 2013

Off to a Busy Start in 2013

by at 11:21 am

Happy Monday! After a six-week siege of having a bad back, I went to the driving range and hit some golf balls on Saturday, and did not suffer any adverse outcomes (other than having to watch the results of my shots). I was hoping to go hit some golf balls at the driving range yesterday, but the weather was unexpectedly miserable, so I chose to work at home and watch some football games instead. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, and I spared my back extra stress to boot.

Harriet and I saw a couple of movies over the weekend – First, Silver Linings Playbook (terrific, and a real slice of life for a native Philadelphian) and then Zero Dark Thirty (also terrific, but we liked Argo more, and I liked Lincoln better than any of them, including Les Mis). We love movies, but don’t get to enough – this is the first time we have actually seen most of the leading Oscar contenders in theaters in a number of years.

Don’t be fooled into thinking I have had a lot of time to catch movies at the expense of work. If only it were so! I am on the site visit team for an upcoming CCSG review, and find that by critically reviewing another center’s proposal I am learning a lot about what works and what does not – it will be helpful for our CCSG renewal. Internal and external reviews of our draft sections are trickling in, and we’ll be poring over them in the next week or two. We still have an awful lot of work to do, but I think we are in pretty good shape.

I had a couple of terrific meetings with Waddah Al-Refaie last week. Waddah is MGUH’s new Chief of Surgical Oncology and Georgetown Lombardi’s Surgeon in Chief. We met to discuss his research plans, with Arnie Potosky’s involvement, and then met with Neil Weissman from MHRI to discuss ways to develop a Surgical Outcomes Center that utilizes cutting edge methods in health outcomes research. I think Waddah is going to be a major contributor at Georgetown Lombardi, and look forward to helping him succeed.

I also had a fascinating visit to Walter Reed on Wednesday to meet with Col. Craig Shriver and his team, as they develop the John Murtha Cancer Center, which aspires to be a comprehensive cancer center. There are enormous opportunities for collaboration, and I will be assembling some teams to consider ways to leverage these opportunities.

On Thursday morning I attended the NCI Intramural Program retreat at the Reagan Building in my role a s a member of the NCI Board of Scientific Counselors. The morning plenary session contained two talks, one of which related the work of Dick Schlegel and his role in developing the HPV vaccine, while another talk focusing on Ezrin in sarcoma made explicit reference to collaborations with Aykut Uren. Not bad!

That afternoon I had a busy clinic, and ended up seeing my young patient with metastatic colon cancer, now progressive on standard chemotherapy. He has agreed to enroll in a clinical trial of chemotherapy plus a PARP inhibitor, which is led by Mike Pishvaian. I am delighted to be able to offer him something new, but the feeling of impotence as his cancer marches on is nothing short of harrowing. I can only imagine what it is like for him, his wife and what this ultimately will mean for his young children. As clinic ended I hustled over to the Leavey Center to bid a fond farewell to Herb Herscowitz at his retirement ceremony. Herb is a true Georgetown hero, and he will be missed. I will particularly miss him when I have to give the immunology lectures he used to give to the medical students!

Have a great week.

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Jan 06 2013

New Year, New Blog

by at 10:43 pm

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. It feels like forever since my last blog, so I’ll provide a quick update on what has happened over the past two weeks. As the last part of her birthday present Harriet and I left for the Florida Keys for a week on the evening December 21, and spent the first night near the Fort Lauderdale airport before winding our way down to Marathon Key on the 22nd. The surprise was revealed when we checked in to the place we had rented; Isaac was dancing in the family room and out came his parents and our other kids.  Planning this effort required only slightly less effort than D-Day (or so it seemed to me).  I made a couple of tiny slips in the day or two before we got down there, so while Harriet was not entirely surprised, I do think she was very pleased. We had a simply great trip. We spent an afternoon in Key West, took turns cooking terrific meals, visited the dolphin sanctuary that was home to “Flipper” and also spent time at a Sea Turtle hospital. And we watched the fabulous sunsets over the gulf, one of which occurred during a lovely visit to the nearby campsite of Jeff Toretsky and his family, who spent part of that week scuba diving and sea kayaking  All in all, it was a wonderful chance to be together; those of you with grown children no doubt will agree that as they get older and busier with their own lives, it is especially sweet to all be together.

Of course, Isaac’s mom is also a cancer bioinformatician, so I would be lying if work didn’t come up from time to time. Actually, we had a great time with a data set recently generated in my lab; she gave me a pretty in-depth tutorial on how to approach complex data sets. That may not sound like the stuff of a dream vacation to everyone, but I thought it was great. We all departed on December 29, and so were back in town for New Year’s eve and New Year’s day. I did have a chance to catch up on a lot of pending work, and began working on the renewal of one of my grants, which is due at the end of March. Having time to think about the renewal and where I want to direct my lab’s research was truly invigorating. So, when I got back to work I was rested and recharged. Plus, my back felt a lot better so I resumed my aerobic conditioning work on Monday. I must say it felt good to be back in action.

When I walked into the office I had my first pleasant work-related surprise of the new year; Beppe Giaccone was chatting in the office suite, as this was his first day of work as Lombardi’s AD for clinical research and co-leader of the Experimental Therapeutics Program. We spent a good deal of time talking, and he is already looking at the ET program write up. We’ll be having a reception in his honor in the next couple of weeks, so please be sure to come by and meet with him, or chat with him if you already know him. Stay tuned for a formal announcement. Wednesday was otherwise a catch-up day; the work highlight was a MedStar-Georgetown Network conference call where we decided to place an announcement in the major journals to recruit a large number (up to 10) medical oncologists – a mixture of replacements and new hires. This is a pretty strong signal of commitment from MedStar to cancer in this region, wouldn’t you agree?

On Thursday I resumed my strength and flexibility work at the gym, and that too felt great. I had a couple of meetings that morning, followed by clinic that afternoon. I also spoke with my young patient with metastatic colon cancer; his cancer worsened last month, and his blood counts have been too low to allow him to move on to the next treatments. I’ll be seeing him this Thursday, and hopefully he’ll be good to go. But it has been a hard month for him and his family.

On Friday, I had a chance to meet the Grand Rounds speaker, Victor Velculescu, and found his work to be exceptionally interesting; his genomic mapping studies might give us hints as to what drives cancers like the one my patient is fighting. I very much enjoyed Victor’s seminar, though I would have loved to hear more about how genomic mapping can be linked to actual signaling to better distinguish driver and passenger mutations in colorectal cancer.

We then had a pretty busy weekend, going to a lecture at Politics and Prose on Friday night with Mike Atkins and his wife Susan, and then going to friends’ homes on Saturday and Sunday evenings – I guess our transition to DC living is now complete! We watched the Redskins’ painful loss with our friends on Sunday; it was so sad to see brilliance extinguished so swiftly. I do hope that RGIII recovers fully to the form that made him the talk of the NFL by the start of next season; that will take two fully functional knees.

I have a crazy couple of weeks coming up, with CCSG preparations mixed with many other activities. 2013 promises to be very eventful!

Have a great week.

Marathon Key Sunset

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