Archive for January, 2014


Jan 27 2014

A Semi-thawed Monday

by at 8:39 am

Greetings on a semi-thawed Monday morning. I am at a meeting of the NCI Clinical Trials and Translational Research Advisory Meeting (CTAC) to review the SPORE program. It is a very useful exercise to define how to improve this very important program.

The past weekend was very nice, highlighted by a little party we had for my lab on Sunday evening. The week preceding this was a bit truncated by the Martin Luther King holiday and the University closure on Tuesday due to the weather. On Thursday and Friday I had the pleasure of hosting Bob Beckman as a visiting professor. Bob is a mathematician and clinical investigator whose take on the evolution of drug resistance in cancer is provocative and really interesting. He certainly was deeply impressed by the wonderful scientific community we have too, by the way.

Later in the day on Friday, Mike Atkins led a Program Leaders meeting that focused on the work of the Melanoma Disease group, The acceleration of this group’s activities over the past year has been really impressive, and shows what we can accomplish with leadership and focus.

The coming week will be quite busy. After this meeting ends up in Shady Grove I will scoot home for a quick bite to eat and then head over to the Verizon Center to entertain some donors at the Georgetown – Villanova basketball game, which starts at 9 pm. Since Villanova is an ancient “Big 5” rival of Penn, where I went to college, I have multiple reasons to root for the Hoyas to spring a huge upset tonight!

Have a great week.

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Jan 21 2014

An Evolution of Education

by at 7:50 am

I am writing this blog a bit late this week, before heading out to avoid the brunt of the onrushing snowstorm. The weekend was long and fairly quiet, highlighted by a wedding anniversary dinner at a lovely restaurant in Great Falls on Sunday evening. On Monday I attended Georgetown’s annual event at the Kennedy Center to celebrate the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King.

The week was highlighted by my attendance at the NCI Intramural Investigators’ Retreat at the Reagan Building in DC on Tuesday. As Chair of the NCI BSC for Clinical Science and Epidemiology, I attend these annual retreats to better familiarize myself with the work being done by intramural investigators. A wise person once told me that the grass is always browner on the other side. And in some ways, the intramural program exemplifies that concept. There are so many wonderful investigators there, and the Program is fortunate to have extraordinary resources to pursue high-risk, innovative science. Yet, the budget cuts have really impacted the Intramural program, and the individual laboratories are surprisingly small. Just as some of us might look longingly towards Bethesda and wonder what it might be like to work there, I can guarantee you that intramural investigators feel enormous pressures and have concerns that all investigators can recognize regarding the future of their science. But, I certainly was very impressed by much of what I saw.

On Friday I gave a lecture for a course on Systems Biology that Bassem Haddad is organizing for a MOOC that has already attracted 17,000 registrants. It was a very interesting experience! Fortunately I was able to adapt a lecture on the topic I had prepared for a Cancer Informatics conference in November that had been organized by Subha Madhavan. I have been a peripheral player in discussions at the Georgetown University Executive Committee level about how we and other elite universities might fit into this new paradigm. I certainly am no expert on the subject, but I do think that nothing will ever replace the sense of community and educational intimacy that characterize extraordinary, campus-based educational institutions. At the same time, we all have suffered through truly dreadful large lecture format presentations given by uninspired, ineffective and occasionally unintelligible professors, and MOOC-type approaches could certainly make it possible for all students to enjoy genuinely exciting, useful and world-class presentations by the “best of the best”. I would not be surprised to see an evolution of education to include core curriculum lectures offered through best of class MOOC-type approaches, with on-campus institutions providing tutorials and seminars to enrich the educational and cultural experiences of students. Just don’t ask me about how the financial models of such an approach might work!

I’ll be working from home this afternoon, but have a pretty busy week ahead of me. Remember to bend your knees while shoveling!

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Jan 12 2014

Back in the Swing of Things

by at 7:51 pm

It’s amazing how rapidly I got back into the swing of things in the new year. Last Monday was notable for a really interesting and productive ET program meeting led by Beppe Giaccone and Anton Wellstein, who invited Chip Petricoin from George Mason University. Chip discussed his work using Reverse Phase Protein Microarray technology to rapidly and simultaneously assess the phosphorylation status of hundreds of important signaling proteins from a very small tumor specimen. I have collaborated with Chip for several years now to study pathways of estrogen-independence, and believe that Lombardi clinical investigators can make important use of this technology to understand who should be treated with what drugs, and how those drugs work in people. In fact, I am finishing up work on a R21 proposal in conjunction with Chip and a number of Lombardi colleagues to study signaling in pancreatic cancer clones derived from conditional cellular reprogramming.

On Tuesday I finished my SITEL modules for clinicians in the MedStar Health system. Later in the week I worked on my responsibilities for our upcoming Strategic Plan meetings, and had a really interesting meeting with a Georgetown colleague, Bill Novelli, who is at the Business School. Bill is a prime innovator who essentially developed the concept of socially conscious marketing, and established Porter Novelli, one of the world’s largest operations in that space. He also served as CEO of Care, Inc., and of the AARP. I met Bill while at a Ruesch Symposium dinner hosted by John Marshall and Jack DeGoia, and quickly learned that he has a deep and abiding interest in tobacco control. As many of you know I have been working with key Lombardi faculty and with representatives of the Legacy Foundation and the Georgetown Law Center to explore ways to have a greater impact on tobacco control in the District, with an emphasis on minimizing disparities. Bill promises to be a powerful ally and I look forward to working with him to turn ideas into action.

On Friday I took the train up to Philadelphia to attend a Pancreatic Cancer think tank at Thomas Jefferson. Other than running into a lot of Philly area colleagues and friends, the meeting was genuinely interesting and promises to forge new collaborations. It was good to hear old friend George Prendergast, a cancer genetics guy interested in molecular targets, spout immunologic gospel; he is convinced that the future of effective cancer therapy lies in manipulating the host immune response. Music to my ears! I found myself debating with him about my belief that such efforts need to be tied to an understanding of cancer cell based molecular drivers. Now that is proof that, based upon many conversations I have had with Lombardi colleagues, this old dog can be taught new tricks!

We spent the weekend with family, and had a special thrill on Saturday afternoon when Harriet, my father and I drove up to New York City to see our niece Marla perform as one of the wicked stepsisters in the Broadway production of Cinderella. Marla is a veteran of the Broadway stage, but that did not diminish the thrill of seeing her up there. It seems like only yesterday that she was a three-year old bolting out of her booster seat in restaurants, unbidden, to belt out the song “Tomorrow” from the show Annie, loudly and pitch-perfect, to our embarrassment but the delight of surrounding diners (at least the first time she would do it in any given meal). We are so happy that her dreams came true.

Have a wonderful week.


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Jan 05 2014

Happy New Year!

by at 4:51 pm

Happy New Year! Like many of you I have been easing back into a busy schedule of work activities, starting on Thursday, when I had a series of meetings followed by not-too-busy clinic. I had a few meetings on Friday, and spent some hours working on my yearly SITEL modules, which are required online courses for health care providers. I have three more modules to do, and hope to get them done early in the coming week.

I have also been working on Lombardi’s rebuttal to the NCI Site Visit Draft Report. I get about one page to correct “factual” errors. This has turned out to be a rather pleasant exercise this go-round, since we really have no substantive issues with the Draft Report. The letter will go out in the next day or two. The Parent Committee will review the report and score the application in the middle of the month, so we will have our number pretty soon. More to follow.

I am not big on New Year Resolutions, since continuous improvement requires continuous effort. However, as I think about the Cancer Center, I believe that the hard work we all have done to prepare for the CCSG renewal has provided us with a very useful blueprint for future actions. I do have a number of ambitions for my research, some of which have been on the back burner for the past year or so. For example, a long-time collaborator of Mike Pishvaian’s, who based at Jefferson, is putting together a pancreatic cancer research “Dream Team” that will be meeting this coming Friday in Philadelphia. The team will discuss putting together a multi-investigator grant that would involve several of us from Lombardi. I will attend that meeting, and have some ideas for employing our functional genomics platforms to explore pancreatic cancer heterogeneity and immunotherapy sensitivity.

And, needless to say, any set of New Year resolutions has to include some that are not at all work-related! I will resolve (and almost surely fail) to break 80 in a round of golf. I certainly will also try to remain committed to staying fit. Harriet and I purchased a new exercise bike and treadmill for our house last week, and I intend to use them regularly. I won’t have much in play with respect to rooting for my favorite sports teams this year, now that the Eagles have been eliminated from the playoffs. Philly’s other professional teams generally stink, and based on the games I have watched the Hoyas basketball team has work to do to be an elite squad this year. I sure hope they find their rhythm soon!

Have a great week.

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