Archive for October, 2015


Oct 26 2015

What a Week!

by at 9:00 am

I barely know where to start. The week started with a Strategic Planning meeting that built on our scientific retreat from earlier this year. We really began to drill down on three areas of scientific emphasis – precision medicine, immunotherapy and survivorship. It was a very productive day and we look forward to presenting our notion of how we will move forward in these areas to our External Advisory Committee in December. The idea of having a few overarching cross-cutting themes that connect to the research programs was reinforced later in the week when I traveled up to Buffalo to attend the Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s External Advisory Board meeting. They and many other cancer centers are beginning to develop serious scientific strategic plans, so we are in good company!

My Wednesday was highlighted by a visit from colleagues from the John Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed to discuss ways our cancer centers can collaborate. We already have some interactions – Mary Beth Martin has a new grant with old friend and colleague Celia Byrne to look at alternate estrogen-like activation and mammographic density, and Lucile Adams-Campbell and Anton Wellstein have submitted a grant with colleagues at Walter Reed and the University of West Virginia to study precision medicine in minority and underserved populations. And there are numerous opportunities to work together in other areas.

But the highlight of the week was the 29th Annual Lombardi Gala on Saturday night. The Gala was great as always, thanks to the magnificent efforts of so many people – a legion of passionate, committed volunteers, our wonderful events people – Sharon Courtin, Bonnie Roberts (back to help and wonderful as always!), Elissa Ernst and Tori Hamed – and so many others who gave of themselves to support our cause. We raised a lot of money (final totals are pending), and had a great time as well. We had an opportunity to thank the Washington Area Lexus Dealers for donating a new Lexus for every Gala auction since 2003. And it was a thrill to honor NFL player Devon Still with this year’s NFL Players Association Georgetown Lombardi award – he is taking off the year to support his daughter Leah as she recovers for therapy for neuroblastoma. Her struggles and his emergence as a remarkable spokesman for pediatric cancer research are well documented. One highlight of the weekend was on Friday, when Devon and Lombardi Honorary Chair DeMaurice Smith (President of the NFLPA) toured Jeff Toretsky’s lab. The encounter was documented by Comcast Sports, and the link is here if you want to watch it. If we had known it would be so inspiring, we would have shown the clip at the Gala! I am sure you will agree that Jeff has the makings of a star TV doctor. And to top it off Devon gave an inspiring, remarkable and gracious acceptance speech at the Gala.

I got up early on Sunday to attend the AACI/CCAF Cancer Center Director’s meeting here in DC, and will be speaking at a symposium on immunotherapy on Monday morning. I come back to Georgetown for a Lombardi clinical “State of the Union” meeting in the late afternoon. At this “all hands” meeting I will describe our remarkable progress in clinical trial activity over the past few years. This is what we should be doing, but I would be remiss in not acknowledging the doctors, nurses, protocol staff, and everybody engaged in the clinical research enterprise. That “everybody” includes the members of our Cancer Research Committee, who review protocols and devote countless hours to assure that our protocols have the highest possible scientific quality and are continuing to meet their scientific and safety objectives once they are activated and accruing patients. I cannot overestimate the importance of this work, and extend my gratitude to everybody on the Committee, which is led by Claudine Isaacs. Thank you.

The AACI meeting continues through Tuesday morning. That evening, Doug Lowy, the acting director of the NCI, is visiting with Georgetown medical students and I’ll be joining him for dinner. My NCI connections resume on Wednesday when I lead a 2 1/2 day site visit of one of the NCI labs. So, it will be a busy week!

Have a good week.

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Oct 19 2015

Energizing Work

by at 6:33 am

I just completed a really busy week! It started on Monday, when I attended the RPPA workshop at George Mason University on Monday. RPPA is a powerful proteomic tool to dissect signaling networks related to cancer, and our group collaborates extensively with Chip Petricoin, organizer of this year’s workshop, on a number of projects.

Tuesday was highlighted by my first meetings with Donald Dunn, Lombardi’s new Senior Director of Development. Donald comes to us from Salt Lake City, where he was previously a fundraiser for the University of Utah Department of Medicine. He also has a strong background in the DC political scene and those skills will no doubt be helpful as he assumes his new responsibilities. Welcome, Donald! Over the next few weeks he will be meeting with many of you as we work to revitalize our fundraising efforts.

On Wednesday afternoon I jetted off to Minneapolis to attend the External Advisory Board meeting of the Masonic Cancer Center of the University of Minnesota. The cancer director there, Doug Yee, spent some time at Georgetown, and has been a productive physician scientist and a successful cancer center director. He is a genuinely good guy to boot. It was a pleasure to participate in the EAB meeting on Wednesday evening and Thursday; I got back into DC on Thursday night, so it was a quick trip.

But the highlights of the work week were on Friday, when I attended and spoke at Capital Breast Cancer Center’s Gift of Life Breakfast at the Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Not only is this a wonderful event that supports one of Lombardi’s signature efforts, but this year’s honoree was Jeanne Mandelblatt, the founder and inspiration of CBCC, and its most prolific advocate as “Captain for Life” of the CBCC/Lombardi team in the Avon Walk. Aas you no doubt know, the 2015 team was nearly 100 walkers strong and raised about $250,000 to support the cause; while the money goes to Avon, that foundation has been a generous and enduring supporter of CBCC and of Lombardi research programs. Lucile Adams-Campbell gave a touching and witty introduction of Jeannie. It was simply wonderful to see evidence that great work can be greatly appreciated.

After returning from the breakfast, I then headed over to the crowded ICBI Informatics Symposium at the Leavey Center, where I introduced one session and then gave a brief conference wrap up. The symposium, organized by Subha Madhavan, Lombardi’s very own force of nature, showed the dazzling breadth of informatics as it spans from sophisticated molecular analyses all the way to patient reported outcomes using biosensor-containing socks! I was really struck by how our informatics efforts have grown at Lombardi over the past eight years. From a simple idea (an integrated clinical and molecular database) to its unbelievable complicated and rich execution – which is still unfolding – informatics has rapidly evolved into one of cancer research’s scientific foundational elements. And there can be no doubt that we have only scratched the potential of this field to transform research and cancer care.

You would think the weekend would have been reserved for a bit of peace and quiet, but Harriet and I went to the theater on Friday evening and then headed up to Philly on Saturday to attend our niece’s baby shower and spend time with the family. So, I can’t say I am rested but I am quite energized for the week ahead, and looking forward to a scientific strategic planning retreat on Monday that builds upon our very successful center-wide retreat earlier this year. And, there will be no rest for the weary; the Lombardi Gala is on Saturday night!

Have a great week.

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Oct 12 2015

A Busy Time

by at 8:58 am

I am recovering from a very busy week; each day started very early and ended late. But the time was well spent. Monday was notable for a thesis committee meeting in the morning, but really highlighted by one of my favorite yearly activities – presenting at a meeting of the Hope Connection, now located on the campus of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, on Rockville Pike. I began the evening with an informal seminar on cancer biology and therapy, with plenty of time allocated for questions and discussion. The Hope Connection gives cancer patients and their families a home-like support atmosphere and eases the journey for so many people. It is a humbling honor to share my time with them. For the first time in all my years of working with this group, one of my patients attended. It was a tiny bit awkward, but having him there reinforced how valuable the Hope Connection is to patients in this area.

I was buried in meetings all day on Tuesday, but had the great pleasure of sharing a dinner at a local restaurant with Harriet, my brother, and my father, who were in town on some business. We were joined by our son David and his wife Kelly. While we see our family as much as we can, it is always nice to see them here rather than up in Baltimore or Philly – even though DC traffic is challenging, our trip was quite manageable. Wednesday was highlighted by the GU Board Meetings, and I attended the Committee on Medical Center Affairs meeting and heard about progress on an exciting initiative on brain plasticity, with a joint presentation by Alex Dromerick and Elissa Newport. Seeing their progress reminded me just how hard it is to establish a major initiative like a comprehensive cancer center. We can thank my predecessors for all the hard work they did to build Lombardi. I certainly am delighted that we have been able to honor their visions and efforts by continuing to develop the cancer center. The day concluded with a very nice reception and dinner in Riggs Library. The Board meeting continued on Thursday morning, and I then headed off to a somewhat abbreviated afternoon clinic. Next I headed downtown to be a part of the Georgetown University table at a dinner hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to honor Ken Samet, the president of MedStar Health. I have had the pleasure of working with Ken for nearly eight years and he has proven to be a wonderful partner and dynamic leader. The ADL is dedicated to opposing prejudice and bias wherever it occurs irrespective of race, creed, ethnicity or sexual orientation. As the son of a Holocaust survivor I am particularly sensitive to the perils and horrors that can be instigated by hate, and I was doubly pleased to celebrate both Ken’s accomplishments and the ADL’s mission.

Life resumed more normally on Friday, though that day was highlighted by Nancy Davidson’s simply wonderful Robert B. Dickson Memorial Lecture presentation on anti-estrogen resistance. It was a genuine tour de force, and as Bob was one of her mentors, I am certain her talk and success would have made him very happy. It was wonderful to have his wife, our colleague Jane Fall Dickson, and his brother in attendance at the lecture too. Later that day we heard a great presentation at the Program Leaders meeting from Anton Wellstein and Beppe Giaccone about a large joint grant they submitted with Lucile Adams-Campbell to examine circulating biomarkers in minority and underserved lung cancer patients in this general region. It was great fun to finish the work week on an exciting scientific note. It would be nice to have that happen every week – for me and for everyone at Lombardi!

I hope your coming week will be fun, productive and rewarding.

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Oct 05 2015

New Horizons and Old Friends

by at 8:59 am

I am writing this blog on Sunday afternoon, watching the Eagles get dismantled by Washington. As the season unfolds, I fear that the awful truth (for me) is being revealed – the Eagles are not very good. If this were a grant review, the Eagles and their coach would get high marks for innovation but low marks for approach and for personnel. And Washington appears to have professional athletes and solid leadership, I must say.

It seems my highlights will have to come from someplace other than the gridiron. On Tuesday morning I participated in the Georgetown University Executive Committee’s President’s Retreat at the School for Continuing Studies. For me the highlight was a presentation by Ed Healton and Eugenie Dieck (the Korn Ferry consultant who has been meeting with many GUMC people) to identify the key issues, challenges and opportunities we need to consider as we move forward. As noted in Ed Healton’s letter to the GUMC community, there will be considerable activity over the next month and in the time that follows to help us position GUMC and Lombardi for future success. This activity continued with a presentation by Ed and Eugenie to the Council of Chairs on Friday.

On Friday it was really wonderful to see an old friend, Maureen Murphy from the Wistar Institute, prior to her Grand Rounds presentation on Friday. Maureen’s lab was one floor below mine when we worked at Fox Chase, and her innovative work in the area of p53 has always been very impressive. She has identified a novel p53 polymorphism that regulates the risk of developing cancer that is really intriguing. I should note that we have an extraordinary lineup of Friday speakers this year, and hope you will attend. For example, we will welcome Nancy Davidson, an old friend of many of us and Director of the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute this Friday as the 2015 Robert B. Dickson Memorial lecturer. Nancy is an internationally recognized authority in breast cancer, and I am certain she will give a presentation that would have pleased Bob Dickson very much.

I’d like to add a reminder that we are looking forward to receiving proposals in response to the Lombardi/Hackensack Developmental Funds request for applications and in our re-competition for ACS Young Investigator Awards. There haven’t been a lot of applications yet, so really good proposals will have a good shot at attracting support.

Please remember that the purpose of the first award is to foster collaborations with Hackensack, so even if researchers don’t have an existing relationship with someone there, Sharon Levy is happy to help connect you with a potential new colleague. This is a great way to expand your research horizons and to help Lombardi further develop its relationship with Hackensack. You can view the full request for applications here.

Have a great week.

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