Archive for October, 2013


Oct 27 2013

Happy Halloween!

by at 10:22 pm

We seem to have skipped a month somewhere, lurching from summer and into late autumn overnight. For some reason, last week was fairly quiet, so I had time to work on a R21 grant idea I have been considering. Basically, I would like to explore pancreatic cancer heterogeneity by examining patient samples for signaling architecture (by reverse phase protein arrays) and doing the same in their conditionally reprogrammed tumor samples. We also would try to isolate subclones from the primary reprogrammed cultures and characterize their signaling and genomic properties. In the second aim we would evaluate chemotherapy sensitivity properties of the primary cultures and their subclones.

The big question I have relates to the best way to examine genomics in a R21 grant structure. I have been toying around with the idea of using RNAseq, which would give information about gene expression as well, but think that exome sequencing would be more definitive in demonstrating that the subclones are indeed genetically divergent. Any ideas or insights into choosing the best way to approach this issue would be appreciated!

My schedule heats up a bit next week. I have a lecture in Bassem Haddad’s Molecular and Human Genetics Course in the Med School on Tuesday. On Thursday morning we have a big fundraising breakfast for the Capital Breast Care Center at the Reagan Building in DC. And then on Friday we are hosting a wonderful speaker, Dr. Funmi Olopade, one of the world’s leading authorities on the translational application of breast cancer genetics. Lastly, on Saturday night we have the annual Lombardi Gala. So, the R21 may have to wait a bit, though I’d like to get it in before things start heating up in anticipation of the CCSG Site Visit on December 9.

Have a happy Halloween.

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Oct 20 2013

Pushing Forward

by at 7:52 pm

This has been an interesting, eventful, and emotional week for me. Now that the government is back in business we have been able to get back to work. We heard from the NCI, and the plan is to reschedule the site visit as soon as possible, probably in November. We have provided the NCI with dates and should hear soon about whether any of them might work for all involved. More to follow.

Meanwhile, we are now into “Gala” season. Our Lombardi Gala and CBCC Breakfast events will be held over the next month, and Harriet joined me at the annual Children’s Cancer Foundation annual Ball in Cockeysville, MD on Saturday evening. The event was poignant, because the organization’s founder, Shirley Howard, passed away this past summer at the age of 88. Shirley was a great supporter of Lombardi, and the Foundation has provided more than $4 million in donations to Lombardi since its founding 30 years ago. She was a true force of nature and she made a big difference in this world. We decided to spend the night in Baltimore at our kids’ place, and were awakened early Sunday morning by our grandson, Isaac. Now, that was a treat! After watching Isaac’s soccer practice we got home in time for me to watch Philadelphia get throttled by Dallas while Washington rallied to beat the Chicago Bears. It’s going to be a long season for Eagles’ fans.

But the Gala that will truly linger with me was held on Thursday night in DC for the Chris4Life Foundation to fight colon cancer. John Marshall has been a major force in supporting this relatively new Foundation, which in turn has pledged more than $1.6 million to support Lombardi. That is wonderful, but imagine my surprise when, during the cocktail hour I saw unexpected familiar faces in the crowd – those of my young patient with metastatic colon cancer (whom I have blogged about on several occasions in the past) and his wife. It turns out that he is active in the organization. Imagine being a young man, a husband, a father, working hard in his chosen profession, struck by a horrific disease in the prime of his life, yet giving back through his service to this wonderful organization. It was inspiring and humbling. And when I walked over to say hello and introduce Harriet to them he reminded me that he had just started on Tuesday. Harriet didn’t know what he meant, but I did. He had just commenced on a Phase I clinical trial of Cetuximab (an anti-EGFR antibody) plus Nilotinib (an anti-c-abl drug) being run by Brandon Smaglo, one of our new faculty members. This trial is directly based upon R01 funded work done in my laboratory; Joe Murray has submitted the paper describing that work. And, the patient’s tumor cells are currently being grown using Dick Schlegel’s conditional cellular reprogramming method as part of the protocol. I certainly hope the treatments are useful and that they are helpful to my patient. Brandon is following him while he is on this particular protocol. But my fingers certainly are crossed!

My career was built around the clinical translation of new therapeutic concepts. As my career has developed in an administrative direction I have progressively stepped away from that role, since the oversight of clinical trials requires the full attention of the Principal Investigator. However, with Brandon’s help I find I am able to re-engage in this arena. I did not know how much I had missed it until I saw my patient, dressed in a suit at a fundraiser, while being treated on a clinical trial I had helped inspire. Thursday evening reminded me of why I became a doctor, an oncologist and a cancer researcher. I cannot imagine a higher calling for me, or a better way to fulfill my desires to make this world a better place.

Have a good week.



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Oct 14 2013

Continuing the Fight

by at 10:26 pm

I don’t have a lot to report this week. We are still waiting for the government to reopen so we can hear about the timing of our site visit. So, I have focused on other things, including research and patient care.

Sadly, three of my patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer have died in the last few weeks. Each of them had a brief response to chemotherapy, and then their diseases roared back with a vengeance, despite all of our best efforts. I am fighting back the best way I know – by writing a new research proposal that focuses on this terrible disease.

On a related note my young patient with metastatic rectal cancer just got started on a clinical trial of cetuximab plus nilotinib led by Brandon Smaglo. We certainly hope he derives some benefit from this treatment. Fingers crossed!

Also, congratulations to Dick Schlegel, who will receive the President’s Awards for Distinguished Scholar-Teachers today at the University’s annual Fall Faculty Convocation in Gaston Hall at 5 pm. It is certainly well deserved. Congratulations, Dick!


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Oct 06 2013

Back to Work!

by at 10:13 am

In the early 1960s there was a British import television news variety show called, “That Was the Week that Was.” For some reason I was reminded of that show when I sat down to compose this blog.

The week started innocently enough. Lucile Adams-Campbell won her age group in the Undy 5000 5K run for the Colon Cancer Alliance. Congratulations, Lucile, and remind me to never challenge you to a race! The weekend before last felt like the calm before a major storm. We were, of course, primed and completely ready to proceed with the Site Visit last Thursday. Like many of us, I was fretting a bit about the threatened government shutdown, but assumed there would be a resolution by October 3. But the Friday before last, we were informed that if the government shut down the site visit would be cancelled, since NCI personnel have to be there. As “non-essential” workers, they would be furloughed and explicitly prohibited from conducting any official business. So, we sat and waited…

Ironically, on September 29 Michael Vander Hoek and I participated in a panel discussion at the annual American Association of Cancer Institutes’ meeting in DC on how to prepare for competitive renewals and site visits using the new CCSG guidelines. By then, I was wondering if the government really would shut down, and started to resign myself to its growing likelihood. I spent Monday and Tuesday of last week at the GU Executive Committee retreat. By Tuesday morning, we had been notified that the site visit was cancelled and would be “expeditiously rescheduled.” Because of the furloughs, we were told to expect no further communications until the government reopens for business.

So we unwound our preparations, disappointed that all of our hard work had been derailed, albeit temporarily, by the madness on Capitol Hill. As you know, we had our little party in E501 on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the best site visit that never was. On that same day I was interviewed by NBC to comment on the impact of the shutdown on clinical research, and also was contacted by the Cancer Letter, which wanted to know about the impact of the shutdown on Cancer Centers. I have been pleased to contribute to the public dialogue regarding the shutdown, but would have preferred to have the site visit!

At this moment we don’t exactly know what comes next. When we are contacted by the NCI we will put together a plan. We certainly would like to have our site visit as soon as possible, because we have accomplished so much over the past four years and it is time for our colleagues around the country to see it for themselves.

That was the week that was. It’s over and it’s gone. Now it is time to get back to work!



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