Archive for August, 2015


Aug 31 2015

The Power of “I Don’t Know”

by at 10:17 am

As the summer begins to wind to a close, I am back from some restorative time off, looking forward to a busy autumn season filled with many projects that are driving the Cancer Center forward.

The so-called “Dog Days of August” are usually a quiet time for clinics and clinical research, but as of Friday no fewer than 40 patients had been enrolled this month in therapeutic clinical trials at MGUH. This is the highest level of monthly accrual I can remember in my nearly eight years at Georgetown, and continues a gratifying pattern of increasing contributions by Lombardi investigators to clinical trial research. This is exactly what we should be doing, both to advance science and to offer our patients tomorrow’s treatments today. In this era, with so many transformative new therapy options, the old adage, “Research Cures Cancer” has never been more appropriate. Congratulations to all of our physicians, nurses, clinical staff, protocol coordinators, regulatory coordinators and data managers for this wonderful performance. And thanks to our physician leadership for making sure that clinical trial sponsors see Georgetown as a “go-to” place for testing their new agents. And, as we now take the show on the road through the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Network and our colleagues at Hackensack University Medical Center, the best is yet to come!

While I stayed in touch with Lombardi’s goings-on while I was away, I did some other reading, too. I love to read, but it’s hard to find concentrated time for reading when I am fully engaged in our important work. But, over the past week or so, I have been entranced by a wonderful book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It is a work of popular science, which integrates cultural anthropology, history, other sciences, politics and religion in an erudite and intoxicating manner, revealing penetrating insights with every page. It describes the three major revolutions of human history – the last one being the Scientific Revolution that began in about 1500 AD. I was really struck by the contention made by the author that the Scientific Revolution began with the simple words, “I don’t know”. It enabled transformative discoveries and science-based technologic miracles that created the steam engine, the automobile, the airplane, molecular biology and ESPN. Traditional scholarship relied upon the premises that God knows everything, the ancients knew everything that was necessary to know and true scholarship thus involved the study of ancient texts to reveal lost knowledge. Admitting that “I don’t know”, and assuming that new knowledge was possible to acquire through experimentation, changed the world. One such experiment – perhaps the most important one, because of the magnitude of the finding – was the discovery of the Americas.

I wonder how the Academy, particularly those institutions with faith-based traditions, reconcile the probing of the past with the hunger to acquire new knowledge and then use that knowledge to improve the human condition. I wonder how current universities create the fundamental philosophies and structures needed to both sustain pre-Scientific Revolution-focused scholarship and the research required to create new knowledge. And how might this relate to Georgetown as we ponder our future as an elite university?

As you plan your fall calendar, please take note of the following conferences that are going be held at Georgetown. They address important clinical problems that require help from the Scientific Revolution and that we can make possible through our research. The 2nd Annual MedStar Georgetown Symposium on Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors takes place on September 12th, and will discuss “the significant roles of targeted therapies, the use of organ-sparing surgery, the use of minimally invasive surgery and the management of advanced, recurrent and resistant GIST.” Kidney and Bladder Cancers: Biology and Patient Management is scheduled for October 3rd and will serve as a “clinical update on the biology, therapeutic modalities and management decision making in patients with kidney and bladder (urothelial) cancers.” The links above have more information.

Have a wonderful week!

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Aug 17 2015

Exciting Developments

by at 8:54 am

Greetings on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon. I am doing my blog a bit early this week because I’ll be out of the country for a week beginning on Saturday evening. This has been a quiet time at Georgetown as folks finish up vacation time, get kids off to school and enjoy the summer weather. However, I have been able to catch up on a lot of overdue work, so it has been an unusually productive week.

On Monday, besides our Sector Faculty meeting, I helped to host a webinar sponsored by the NCI Clinical Trials Advisory Group (CTAC) to discuss how to further develop and improve NCI Cancer Center-based Clinical Trials Monitoring Systems. This is an opportunity to enrich and at the same time streamline data collection from patients on clinical trials and to make appropriate information available to researchers and patients alike. It is extremely complex stuff, but could be very important. My CTAC co-chair for this effort is Warren Kibbe, a well known cancer-focused informatician, and I have enjoyed working with him.

Wednesday was highlighted by a truly exciting meeting with our Hackensack colleagues to develop some “shovel-ready” immunotherapy clinical trials that can accelerate our already excellent progress in conducting joint clinical trials. We have identified strong proposals for a new melanoma trial headed by Geoff Gibney, that appears headed for adoption by a major cooperative group. We also discussed some cutting-edge post-transplant immune checkpoint antibody therapy studies in multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, spearheaded by Andrew Pecora. And finally, I led a discussion of pancreatic cancer immunotherapy opportunities. As a result of that meeting, Ruth He and I have already identified a clinical trial concept involving a TGF-beta inhibitor combined with a PD-1 targeted antibody as a novel therapeutic concept for advanced pancreatic cancer, and possible hepatocellular cancer as well. Pretty exciting stuff…

At my lab meeting later that afternoon, one of my grad students, Dalal Aldeghaither, presented some exciting data demonstrating a potentially novel mechanism by which tumor cells escape destruction by the process of antibody dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). As some of you know, this has been one of my areas of research interest (or perhaps, maniacal focus) for many years, so I was pretty jazzed up by the very interesting findings. Of course, we now have an awful lot more to do…

After a pretty busy Thursday clinic I caught up on a bunch of pending presentations and assignments today, as I prepare for this coming week’s trip. I won’t have a blog next week, since my plane is supposed to land sometime late on Sunday and my pineal gland probably won’t arrive back in the United States for another day or two after that! So, have a great week, and enjoy the dog days of August as much as possible.

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Aug 10 2015

Conferences Galore

by at 9:47 am

After a whirlwind week devoted to babysitting I am (not) rested but am fully restored as I return back to work. I did make a quick-hitting trip down to DC on Friday to speak at the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer’s Primer on Immunology for the Non-Immunologist. Hosted by Mike Atkins, Geoff Gibney and me, it was well attended (about 150 people) and it provided a really nice overview of the field. I then returned to Philly to retrieve Harriet, who like me had a wonderful time with the grandchildren – who are precious and enrich our lives beyond measure – and was happy to turn over daily responsibilities back to their parents!

There are other very nice Georgetown-associated conferences on tap, including the ICBI’s Biomedical Informatics Symposium and an interesting meeting that explores the many applications of reverse phase protein array technology being hosted by our collaborator and friend, Chip Petricoin. Details on each conference are included here and here.

The coming week promises to be quite busy, but I will look forward to getting some full nights of sleep and lots of adult conversation! Have a great week.

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