Archive for July, 2016


Jul 24 2016

A Week of Science and Prevention

by at 5:36 pm

Hot enough for you? I was hoping to hit some golf balls this weekend, but either the golf balls or I would have melted out there. So I consoled myself by trekking up to Baltimore on Saturday with Harriet so we could watch all of our grandchildren while their parents went out to do something fun for a couple of hours. We could not have had a better time.

The workweek was highlighted by two events. The first was the Tumor Biology retreat on Wednesday, which was held at Rosewood Manor in Glen Echo. First of all, congratulations to Anna Riegel for being honored by the students with an award for teaching. Anna has led this program with great success for years and it was wonderful to see her receive this deserving recognition. I gave a brief “pep talk,” after the group got valuable advice from an editor at Science Signaling on how to submit successful manuscripts. Then, we all retired to the poster session for an afternoon of outstanding scientific interactions, lubricated by just a bit of liquid refreshment. As always, I found much to be scientifically inspired by the diverse and genuinely high quality abstracts and presenters. What a great time.

The next major event was not nearly as much fun, but much more important, at least for me. I had a regularly scheduled colonoscopy on Friday, and so had to commence with the prep on Thursday morning and then wait until 3pm Friday for the procedure. The prep was not nearly as difficult as I remember from five years ago. I remember nothing about the procedure, naturally, due to the wonders of anesthesia. Everything was fine, thankfully, and I am glad – if you’ll excuse the pun – to have that particular exercise behind me. If you are of the age where colonoscopy is recommended, please don’t hesitate to get it done. It is safe, and absolutely saves lives. A small polyp removed at the age of 50 never has the opportunity to develop into a killer cancer five years later.

The coming week will be highlighted by a trip to Hackensack with of a group of Lombardi investigators for a retreat with our colleagues to discuss joint efforts in hematologic malignancies. We have made a lot of progress together and look forward to laying the groundwork for future success.

Have a great week, and stay cool.

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Jul 17 2016

Hazy, Crazy but Not Lazy Days

by at 11:20 pm

Greetings on a warm summer Sunday evening. I keep waiting for the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” promised in the old Nat King Cole song (, but such days are not yet in sight. I spent Monday up at the NCI to chair the thrice-yearly meeting of the NCI Board of Scientific Counselors for Clinical Sciences and Epidemiology. At the meeting, we reviewed overall strategy for the NCI intramural research program with Doug Lowy (director of the NCI), Tom Misteli (new director of the Center for Cancer Research) and Steve Chanock (director of the Division of Epidemiology), and then followed with detailed reviews of site visits of selected intramural programs and investigators. As many of you may know, the NCI’s research review process differs from the usual grant review approach commonly experienced by the extramural community. We are accustomed to creating detailed proposals, supported by voluminous preliminary data; in essence we make a promissory note, and the reviewers prioritize our requests. The entire body of work of the PI is considered, but the review focuses on a specific project proposal.

In contrast, the NCI intramural program is more like a Hughes fellowship. Each investigator’s work over the prior four years is considered in its totality. The review focuses primarily on what was accomplished, and the future plans sections are rather cursory by comparison. And, each investigator gets to make his or her case to the site visit team. The experience is no less stressful, but the emphasis on productivity and impact is refreshing. In some ways, it is easier to assess the value of what has been done than it is to decode scientific promises.

Either way, it was a lot of work. There are always challenging dilemmas to consider and each review can basically make or break the affected investigator. The reviewers, the Board and the NCI take these responsibilities very seriously.

After a crazy busy Tuesday, which included an afternoon of meetings at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, I returned to the NCI campus on Wednesday to participate as a member of the NCI Clinical Trials Advisory Committee. This group also advises NCI leadership, i.e., Doug Lowy again, this time with Jim Doroshow, who oversees the Extramural Program that interacts with the external cancer research community. We considered a variety of issues, including the ways the NCI might connect with the President’s Moonshot Initiative. I have been co-leading, with Warren Kibbe (NCI deputy director and leader of the Center for Biomedical Informatics) a subcommittee focused on data sharing, with specific emphasis on the Clinical Trials Reporting System (CTRP). Since 2009, the CTRP has tracked more than 800,000 patients entered onto more than 15,000 clinical trials around the country. The question before us now is, what more are we going to do with the data, what additional data do we want to collect and how is it going to be shared? It is not a simple challenge.

Our daughter Elana was in town for a computational science meeting and we had dinner with her on Wednesday night at Tadich Grill at 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue. It is a sister restaurant to a famous San Francisco seafood restaurant of the same name, and it did not disappoint. Great crab cakes… It was our first time there, but we’ll be back.

The rest of the week was highlighted by a bunch of meetings and my Thursday clinic. I especially enjoyed stopping by the Tumor Biology Program cookout at the end of a busy Friday afternoon. I did not have a beer since I was getting ready to drive home, but couldn’t resist sampling a brat that had been prepared in beer. It was a great way to end a busy week, followed by a day trip on Saturday to see our kids, play with a couple of grandchildren and hang out with some friends.

Sounds a bit like a lazy, hazy crazy day after all!

Have a good week.

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Jul 11 2016

A Week of Food and Splices

by at 9:10 am

What a beautiful summer weekend! We took some great walks, and enjoyed a wonderful meal on Saturday night with friends at a terrific restaurant, Convivial, in Shaw. Their unique version of fried chicken is out of this world. We had dinner at home on Sunday, and I think I finally (after years of bungling that particular task) figured out how to prepare salmon fillets properly on our grill. The trick was to smear a searing hot grill with olive oil and then lay the salmon (in a chipotle lime marinade) on the grill skin-side up for four minutes, lower the heat, flip the fish and grill for another 5 minutes or so. The fish was flavorful, flaky, moist and medium rare – just perfect. It made me feel almost competent.

The workweek, abbreviated by the July 4 holiday, was quite busy, notable for a packed Thursday afternoon clinic and a trip out to MedStar Washington Hospital Center on Friday morning to meet some of their cancer-focused surgeons. But for me the highlight of the week was a simply fabulous ET program meeting on Friday afternoon. Anton Wellstein led a fascinating discussion of splice variants and their roles in cancer biology. These variants add dimensions of complexity to what we think we know about cancer. Work being done by Anton, Jeff Toretsky and others in the Lombardi community positions us well to make important contributions to this exciting and expanding field.

The upcoming week will be busy, as I spend Monday morning at the NCI to chair a meeting of the BSC for Clinical Sciences and Epidemiology, followed by participating in the NCI clinical trial advisory committee meeting (I have to give a presentation there) on Wednesday afternoon.

But now, I have to review and approve last week’s clinic notes!

In Memoriam

After completing my blog Sunday evening, I received some sad news that I want to share with you.

The world of cancer research lost one of its true giants on Sunday morning. Alfred G Knudsen passed away at the age of 93. He was one of many scientific giants who worked at Fox Chase Cancer Center during my years there, but nobody was more respected and revered. I have long wondered (along with many others) why he was never honored with a Nobel Prize. He was widely acclaimed as the father of the “two-hit” theory. More than anybody I have ever known, he changed the way we think about cancer – as a loss of control. And, as great he was as a scientist, he was even a better friend, colleague and mentor. We will not see his like again.

Over the years I had many conversations with Al, and each one was a delight. I never failed to marvel at the depth of his insights and how he elegantly got to the heart of the problem of whatever we were discussing – always with many more layers of understanding than could have ever imagined. He was a truly great man who left the world far better than he found it because of what he did.

Rest in peace, Al. You have earned it.

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Jul 05 2016

Independence Day

by at 8:34 am

Happy Independence Day! I hope you were able to dance between the raindrops and enjoy a July 4 cookout. I returned from a busy week of meetings, punctuated by Cancer Moonshot activities and an appearance on a Bloomberg podcast to discuss the Moonshot and financial impact of cancer care. It was an interesting experience.

We drove up to Philadelphia to see a baseball game (I had promised Isaac I would take him to a game this year in Philly, Baltimore and DC) – one game down, two to go. We had a great time, and the Phillies won. We had great seats, courtesy of a winning bid I made at the Lombardi Gala last year for tickets to a Phillies game. The trip gave us a chance to visit my dad, who continues to do very well on his treatment for myelofibrosis – more evidence that progress in cancer research is real, and makes a profound difference for so many people. All in all, it was a very nice holiday break. Plus, the traffic home on Monday afternoon wasn’t too awful, thankfully. The overcast day that turned into a rainy, moonless night didn’t seem to dampen spirits on the National Mall on Sunday night. And even though the moon is far away, we can get there.

This week promises to be really hectic, and summer is shaping up to be busy as well. But it’s all worth it – we won’t get to the moon without a lot of work!

Have a great week.

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