Archive for July, 2013


Jul 28 2013

More Praises to Sing

by at 9:48 pm

I hope you had a nice weekend. Harriet and I were in Chicago for a family wedding and had a wonderful time, though it was unseasonably cold there. If you haven’t done the Architectural Boat Tour on the Chicago River, put it on the travel itinerary the next time you are in town. It is a bit kitschy, but the river offers the best way to see and appreciate Chicago’s marvelous skyline. Of course, don’t miss the Art Institute – they had a fabulous exhibition on Impressionism and Fashion.

The week preceding our trip was pretty much consumed by CCSG site visit preparations and getting out some long-overdue manuscripts. One of the manuscripts deals with the G-DOC and how it was used to help us analyze a small but highly informative set of samples from 40 patients with early stage colorectal cancer. Subha Madhavan is lead author, and the paper has now been submitted. It is a remarkable tour de force, looking comprehensively at a suite of molecular analyses and determining the set of information that yields the best prognostic information. Yuriy Gusev did some wonderful analyses, and the actual molecular profiling, led by Steve Byers, was superb.

I want to take an opportunity to give props to Amrita Cheema, who has done a marvelous job in leading the metabolomics effort for the PMSR. Amrita has developed this shared resource, with the support and mentorship of Al Fornace, to the point where it is a distinctive and well-respected service that creates remarkable added value for Georgetown Lombardi’s translational research. In the case of the colorectal data set, it turns out that metabolomic profiling was the single most effective way to determine prognosis in people about to undergo curative-intent surgery for early stage colon cancer. Imagine that – a blood or urine sample could identify who will be cured, and who should be considered for follow up chemotherapy to prevent relapse. That is the power and promise of personalized medicine. It is through the work of Amrita, and so many other wonderful folks who run shared resources at Lombardi, that we will ultimately be able to incorporate these tools into the everyday care of people. Thanks, Amrita.

If you are here, this week promises to be another busy one, dominated by more papers to submit and more site visit preparations. For those taking some time off, I hope your week is relaxing as we approach the dog days of summer.



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Jul 21 2013

In Recognition of a Few “Undersung Heroes”

by at 10:04 pm

I hope you have air conditioning that works, because it sure has been hot! Ours is working, though a pipe got so much condensation in our bedroom closet that water began dripping through a trap door. As you can imagine, there are no inexpensive solutions to that particular problem.

We have had a quiet weekend, but enjoyed a terrific (but very noisy) meal with some friends on Friday night at Le Diplomate. The fairly new and highly touted French Bistro on 14th Street Northwest is part of Stephen Starr’s expanding restaurant empire. If you go, I recommend reservations at 5 pm, before the ambient noise gets to jet engine level, or after 9 pm.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I spent two days reviewing applications for the National Clinical Trials Network, which will replace the existing cooperative group system. It was a grueling effort, and I was struck by the number of times I was actually in conflict because of Lombardi’s engagement in various clinical trial efforts. Coincidentally, I have been working on my sets of CCSG site visit slides. Lombardi is well represented on national clinical trial steering committees (Mike Atkins, Bruce Cheson, Beppe Giaccone, Claudine Isaacs, Sandy Swain), and six Lombardi investigators lead or have recently led eight separate national clinical trials (George Philips, Bruce Cheson, Jeanne Mandelblatt, Sandy Swain, Chaitra Ujjani, Mike Atkins). This is yet another example of Georgetown fighting above its weight. Many of us also attended Beppe Giaccone’s outstanding Department of Medicine Grand Rounds on Thursday morning. His work reminds us that the cutting edge of clinical research is squarely at the intersection of superb science and first-rate medicine.

In the course of preparing our CCSG application and the upcoming site visit, I become increasingly familiar with our fabulous shared resources and thought this would be an opportune time to give a shout out to some of Lombardi’s “undersung” heroes.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge Elizabeth Poggi’s outstanding work as manager of the Nontherapeutic Subject Registry (NTSR). This distinctive comprehensive cancer center initiative aims to increase accrual to nontherapeutic studies, and may one day provide a template for expanding our efforts to the therapeutic clinical trial arena.

Under her leadership, recruitment rates in 2012 increased from 1 patient/month to over 30 patients/month with the same number of recruiters.  The consent rate in the Ourisman Center, breast, and GI medical oncology clinics now averages 87%, and of those who consent 97-99% agree to be re-contacted and have their contact information released to investigators for eligible studies.  This has a powerful effect on our ability to do research. The number of patients consenting to blood and biospecimen collection is also very high.

Liz’s exceptional abilities in organization, leadership, and team building – not to mention her dedication and smarts – have been invaluable in driving the mission and success of the NTSR. I believe it has rapidly evolved into a model shared resource for the national cancer research community.

I also am very grateful to Clinton Finch for his superlative efforts to enter all of Lombardi’s therapeutic and non-therapeutic clinical trial information into the NCI’s CTRP (Clinical Trial Reporting Program), which places us in compliance with NCI-established standards. He has truly performed wonders to obtain all of the needed data, place it into the required formats, and enter it into the necessary databases. This is one of those “under the radar” Herculean efforts that make Lombardi’s work possible, and too frequently goes unrecognized and unappreciated in cancer centers. But, not here! Thanks to both of you for making a difference, and hats off to all of the wonderful people who make our shared resources work so wonderfully well. I look forward to future opportunities to acknowledge their fine work too.

Have a great week.


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Jul 14 2013

A Weekend of Rest

by at 6:07 pm

I hear the weather was pretty awful earlier this weekend. Harriet and I took an extra day on Friday and drove to Cape May, NJ to visit with friends for the weekend. The drive up on Friday was a nightmare – like driving for 5-plus hours in a monsoon. Speaking of monsoons it seems as if the poor folks on the S-level can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to water damage. Many people are working diligently to get this problem fixed. I certainly share in the frustration associated with the disruptions to the important work of our colleagues.

We got a bit of a late start on Friday because I had to complete a comprehensive review of grants for a major clinical trials program review panel I am sitting on for NCI. But after we got into Cape May the weather was actually beautiful. We went to dinner and a charming show at the Cape May Playhouse on Friday night. On Saturday I played golf (reasonably well, too, for the second straight weekend), and then we relaxed until dinner. We left at around noon on Sunday and stopped in Baltimore to spend some time with Elana, Ben and Isaac. All in all, a wonderful weekend that was preceded by a busy week.

My week was highlighted by two events – the NCI Board of Scientific Counselors’ meeting on Tuesday, and then a full day on Wednesday that started with an interim Lombardi Strategic Planning meeting, followed by an afternoon of CCSG site visit rehearsals. We have a lot of work to do in our site visit preparations, but we are off to a very good start. I will be working extensively with the program leaders and other presenters over the next few months and, like many of the attendees at this first prep session, am encouraged by what we all have accomplished and where we are headed. Thanks go out to Ellen McLaughlin and Carolyn Hurley for making the day run so smoothly, and for all the hard work they did to make the progress that was so evident on Wednesday afternoon.

The coming week promises to be very busy too, with a two-day study section meeting in Bethesda, admixed with lots of other Georgetown work. At least I’ll be a bit rested after that great weekend!

Have a productive and good week.



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Jul 07 2013

Independence Day Special

by at 3:37 pm

I am sitting on our son Ken’s couch, watching the Phillies on a Sunday afternoon while trying to explain the fine points of baseball to our three month old granddaughter. She is far more interested in the status of her diaper (i.e., wet vs. dry) than in anything I have to say. But, I hope that some of my pithy analyses will sink in.

We have had a terrific Independence Day weekend. We hung around DC on Thursday, and went to the Kennedy Center on Thursday night with David and his girlfriend to watch the fireworks and enjoy some great picnic fare.  On Friday we drove up to Philly and spent two nights with my father. All of our kids joined us, and on Friday we had a large family picnic where I got to man the grill. Despite that, the food was good and the company was incomparable.

On Saturday, I played golf with our son Ken (Ella’s dad) and a friend. I shot my best score in three years – 83 – on a tough course, and I actually believe I have never played a better round of golf. If I were smart, I would quit the game now, showing the good sense to go out “on top.” However, I doubt that will happen. We went for some sushi that evening and ran into an old colleague from my days at Fox Chase. Mel Bosma, now retired, is well known for having discovered the SCID mouse, which has become a workhorse animal model for biomedical research. Mel is a great guy who traded in his laboratory for a woodworking shop and he has never seemed happier. It was wonderful to see him.

One event of note during the past week was Joe Murray’s successful defense of his PhD dissertation on Monday. Joe has done a remarkable job and his presentation, defense and paper (currently under review) are testimony to the quality of his work. Joe is now back in medical school, slaving away as a newly minted third year student. Congratulations, Joe, and well done!

I hear a lot about the brain drain as young would-be scientists are driven from the field by hard economic times. However, Joe and his mates in my lab and in the tumor biology program are reminders that all is not lost – there are plenty of bright, highly motivated young people looking to follow in our footsteps. So, I worry, but remain hopeful and inspired by what I see.

Another highlight was my visit to Hackensack University Medical Center to participate in an event honoring Governor Chris Christie. He is a dynamic speaker and a true ‘people-person’ who effortlessly and emphatically connects with his constituents. Governor Christie is also very taken with the Georgetown association – our magical name certainly travels well up I-95! I gave a short speech where I acknowledged my own Jersey roots and celebrated the affiliation of our cancer centers – you can read it by clicking on the link below.  It was truly a lovely event.

Today we are at Ken and Sarah’s house, and will spend the night here, with plans to babysit for Ella on Monday before heading back to DC. And I sure have plenty of work waiting for me! I have a meeting of the Board of Scientific Counselors on Tuesday, and have to review some of the intramural program evaluations prior to the meeting. And on Wednesday, we have our first rehearsal for the CCSG site visit in the morning, following a strategic planning session. Both of these activities have required a significant amount of preparation. The Director’s Overview is complete, and I am nearly done with the six Essential Characteristics of Cancer Centers. I still have a few other presentations to finalize. Then, I have a series of grants to review for a study section that meets the following week. So much for the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!

Remember to stay hydrated and use sunscreen. Have a great week.


Speech given by director Louis M. Weiner, MD at Hackensack UMC 7.2.13

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