Archive for April, 2017


Apr 24 2017

Meeting My Heroes

by at 10:03 am

Greetings on a rainy Earth Day, the day for the March for Science. Talk about aligned causes! Isaac and his dad Ben participated in the March, and Isaac was interviewed by a couple of American University journalism students. His favorite scientist is Ben Franklin, because Franklin took some crazy risks to prove that lightning contains electricity. He just read a student biography about Franklin. When I was in kindergarten, it was all about Dick and Jane.

It has been good to rest a bit after a very busy week, featuring a trip to Minneapolis for a meeting of the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center EAB. Doug Yee, a Lombardi alum, has done a wonderful job, and it was, as always, very interesting to learn how another comprehensive cancer center goes about its business and adapts to changing CCSG guidelines in this challenging era. While on the topic of EAB, I’d like to wish Mary Beckerle, a member of our EAB, the best of luck in her future endeavors following the unfortunate ending last week of her tenure at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Last week, we received some important and positive news. Georgetown and MedStar agreed to a framework outlining the basic elements of a new agreement. This came after what was described as “intense discussions” over several days. This development is good for all of Georgetown and MedStar. For MedStar, it allows them to move forward in seeking zoning for the medical/surgical pavilion. The new facility benefits Georgetown by providing a state-of-the-art facility to continue our research and education mission. The new framework also ensures a stable funds flow from our clinical partner, with the potential to create a stable base for the research enterprise for many years to come.

Our future partnership with MedStar is critical and I extend my best wishes to those involved in the ongoing discussions as they work to finalize the new agreement.

But, without a doubt the highlight of my week was meeting my heroes. I have begun what I expect will be regular visits to our chemotherapy infusion rooms in my capacity as director of the cancer center to thank the patients for putting their confidence in us and to assure them that they are always in our thoughts. Lisa Cusaac (who oversees the chemotherapy infusion room) and I spent about an hour dropping in on patients and their families, and it was a wonderful experience. The patients were surprised and pleased to see me, as were their families. The nurses were delighted to see an acknowledgment of their patients, and of the great work they do. I was deeply moved by the courage and grace of the patients and their families. I experience this regularly in the context of my clinical activities. Somehow, viewing this from a spot adjacent to but not within the bubble of the doctor: patient relationship made the encounters more impactful. These people are heroes, and they warrant every bit of our effort and concern for their well-being.

In a week marked by a march in support of science it is particularly poignant to personally witness one of the driving reasons why we do our work – to alleviate suffering, to save lives and to advance knowledge with the goal of improving the human condition. I intend to say thank you to our patients on a regular basis to remind me of our mission, and to make sure they know we are here for them – in the infusion area, the clinic, the laboratory and the community.

Have a great week.

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Apr 10 2017

A Trip Down Memory Lane

by at 12:00 pm

I have almost recovered from last week’s AACR meeting. It was such a busy, eventful blur of events. I actually had two successive business lunches (I had two different types of soup!) on Tuesday, spending more time out of the convention center than in the scientific sessions. That was a shame, because the menu of available, interesting sessions was quite remarkable. The scientific integration of immunotherapy, cancer genomics, epigenomics and metabolism is proceeding at an absolutely breathtaking pace.

Wednesday was spent in catch-up activities and then it was off to New Jersey early on Thursday morning to give a keynote lecture at Jersey Shore Medical Center at their annual cancer symposium. Jersey Shore is part of the Meridian Health System, which merged recently with Hackensack University Medical Center to form HackensackMeridian Health. I was invited and chose to attend to wave the Lombardi flag to a new component of our developing consortium. The hospital is quite good and the quality of their cancer service line is very high. I spoke about the cancer moonshot and how the themes connect with what we do at Lombardi and what I do in my research lab. I think they will contribute to our cancer center’s research programs over time.

To get there, I took a train to MetroPark, just north of New Brunswick, and was driven down the Garden State Parkway to Neptune, NJ. We drove right through Matawan, NJ, where I went to high school. I learned that my favorite pizza joint closed about 40 years ago (no surprise there), but that the one special occasion restaurant in the area, the Buttonwood Manor, lives on, though it now has a lot more competition as the area has developed. Hard to believe that the Garden State Parkway is really memory lane!

The coming week will be a bit truncated for many of us, between Passover, Good Friday and Easter. What’s more, I fly out to California on Wednesday for the University of California, Irvine Cancer Center’s External Scientific Advisory Board. Rick van Etten is a wonderful and engaged cancer center director and I am delighted to support his efforts, as I did when he was cancer center director at Tufts. It will be a short trip, as I fly back on Friday.

Have a wonderful week!

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Apr 03 2017

AACR Edition

by at 10:31 am

Greetings from AACR, being held here in DC at the Convention Center. It is the biggest AACR meeting of all time, and has an astonishing number of high-quality sessions. Plus, I have run into so many old friends. It’s like being a part of an incredibly large family, united by a passion to end cancer.

If anybody thinks this is not immunotherapy’s “time”, come to this meeting. It’s everywhere, seemingly in every scientific session. Of course, there is no shortage of great stuff in epigenomics, big data, stem cells, and many other areas showing promise. The NCI’s investment in high-quality research is really paying off, and it is good for our patients and the broader society. Several AACR speakers have mentioned the existential threat to progress posed by the prospect of reduced NCI funding. I wish our legislators could spend time seeing what I have witnessed over the first two days of this meeting, which is a testament to the enormous impact of federal funding on changing the very nature of cancer by 2025. This was the goal articulated by Lombardi friend and outgoing AACR President, Nancy Davidson, and I could not agree with her more.

I have had nearly back to back meetings over the past two days, and look forward to another few exhausting but exhilarating days of science.

Now to finish mapping out my game plan for the Monday sessions!

Have a great week.

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