Archive for October, 2017


Oct 30 2017

My Halloween Monster

by at 11:01 am

(October 29, 2017) — I was rooting for the Redskins to win today. Really. First of all, I really don’t like the Cowboys. Plus, the Eagles have already functionally eliminated Washington from contention in the NFC East, leaving only the Cowpokes as potential (and dangerous) competition for the division title. Alas, it was not to be, though the Eagles did grind out a methodical win over the 49ers, leaving with (for now) the best record in the NFL. However, the season is still young…

Last week started with the President’s Executive Committee Retreat on Monday and Tuesday. Then I was off to Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon for the Masonic Cancer Center (University of Minnesota) EAB on Thursday. Doug Yee and his colleagues are gearing up for their competitive renewal in January, and I learned a lot of CCSG-relevant “do’s and dont’s” from his team and my colleagues on the EAB. I left for the airport at around 3 pm, and caught a direct flight to Buffalo that left at 9:30 and landed at about 12:15 am. I did get a lot of good work in, editing a variety of our own CCSG sections. The Roswell Park EAB meeting started at 7:30 am on Friday and ended in the mid-afternoon. Their competitive renewal is due the same time as ours is due. I learned many more “do’s and don’ts”, but by the time I landed at National Airport on Friday evening I was well and truly cooked, although marinated in a good feeling about where we are in our own CCSG preparations.

I have spent the majority of my weekend working on my Director’s Overview section for our CCSG. It is a lot of work! But, it is all in a good cause.

The coming week is extremely busy, highlighted by the upcoming celebration on Monday evening of Mike Atkins’ installation as the Scholl Chair. Have a happy and safe Halloween! I plan to dress as the CCSG monster on Tuesday night…

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Oct 23 2017

Busy Week

by at 10:16 am

(Sunday, October 22) — What a busy week! It started off with the annual AACI/CCAF meeting on Monday and Tuesday. This is a meeting of more than 90 cancer institutes, of which 48 are NCI designated comprehensive cancer centers, 21 others are NCI designated, while the remainder aspire to obtain NCI designation. It was a great opportunity for networking, to hear more about the NCI guidelines for cancer center designation and to attend lectures and workshops about how cancer centers are dealing with burgeoning efforts in immunotherapy and precision cancer medicine, as well as service to our catchment areas. We learned a lot, and it certainly will be helpful as we ramp up our own CCSG competitive renewal preparations. I’ll learn even more this coming week, as I travel to the University of Minnesota and then Roswell Park Cancer Institute as a member of their external advisory boards. There is nothing quite so helpful as taking a deep dive into another cancer center to get valuable take-away points that can help us.

After a jam-packed Wednesday, Thursday started with a meeting, followed by the Data Meeting presentation by one of my graduate students, Dalal AlDeghaither. I then caught a taxi to the Library of Congress, where I spoke at a panel on cancer genomics, along with Giorgio Trinchieri from the NCI. The panel was rather well attended, and the audience was deeply engaged in the discussions. However, it ran a bit long, and so I hurried back to Georgetown, straight to my clinic. By the time I got home that evening I was well and truly cooked.

The fun continued on Friday, when I spent the morning downtown at the MedStar Board of Directors meeting. Albert Aboulafia (Cancer Center director at MedStar Franklin Square Hospital) and I updated the Board on our efforts to expand the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute and bring our clinical networks to life and connect the Baltimore and Washington regions. It was very helpful for the Board to learn more about what we are doing, and we were encouraged to continue our efforts. Of course, that meeting went long, so by the time I pulled into Entrance 3 our Grand Rounds speaker was already half-done with his presentation. So I walked straight into the talk and heard a fair amount of Samir Khleif’s wonderful and detailed description of the ways he is attempting to mix immunotherapy approaches in preclinical models. Samir is an incoming Georgetown and Lombardi member, serving as our senior scientist, with many years of service at NCI, FDA and then as Director of the Medical College of Georgia’s (now Augusta University) developing cancer center. He has taken a position in Washington and is relocating his laboratory to Georgetown, supported by a generous donation that I’ll discuss in a future blog. Samir, in addition to his talents as a translational researcher and clinical trialist, has a passion for international medicine. He promises to be an important asset as Lombardi seeks to live its vision statement, “local focus, global impact”. Welcome, Samir!

The work week ended with a vibrant Program Leaders meeting, which included all of our Shared Resources directors. We met to coordinate and distribute our many great stories in a coordinated fashion as we begin to polish our preliminary CCSG drafts in preparation for sending them to our EAC for its review in less than a month.

There was plenty of catch up work to do over the weekend, but we managed to squeeze in some family time and socialize with friends. I am not totally refreshed and rested, and the coming week promises to be very busy. But, I sure can’t say I am bored!

Have a good week.

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Oct 16 2017

Patient Navigation Inspiration

by at 10:00 am

(Sunday, October 15, 2017) — In last week’s blog, I mentioned that I was looking forward to this past Tuesday’s Gift of Life Breakfast that supports the Capital Breast Care Center. Lucile Adams-Campbell’s outstanding leadership and vision has shepherded CBCC into its current role as an emerging navigation option for underserved women who need access to potential lifesaving mammography procedures. I had the privilege of joining a small dinner with the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Harold Freeman, who literally invented the concept of enhanced navigation for underserved minorities during his many years of leadership at Harlem Hospital. Dr. Freeman is a genuinely great man with a penetrating intellect, an inspiring sense of mission and a welcoming demeanor. It was a true honor to spend time with him and to then hear him speak at the breakfast. I came away even more determined to make a difference in our catchment area by addressing the challenges of patient navigation for our neediest neighbors. As luck would have it, I had a chance to meet with representatives of a high profile foundation to pitch our ideas for a comprehensive patient navigation program. No one foundation can support everything we’d like to do, but I do believe we can piece together the elements to make a real difference.

The rest of the week was highlighted by a great meeting with our colleagues from Hackensack as we begin to tie together many of the elements needed to put together a compelling CCSG consortium application.

The weekend was highlighted by an interesting Saturday evening excursion with friends to an exhibition at Artechouse, a contemporary space that merges art and technology to create a unique interactive experience. It’s not quite virtual reality, but in a real way, the visitor becomes part of the artistic experience. If you like that sort of thing, check it out.

The coming week will be highlighted by the annual American Association of Cancer Institutes meeting here in DC (I will attend on Monday and Tuesday), and then attending the Data Meeting presentation by one of my PhD students, Dalal AlDeghaither, on Thursday morning. I also have a presentation on Friday to the MedStar board of directors to discuss various aspects of the MedStar-wide cancer effort. It promises to be a busy but interesting few days!

Have a good week.

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Oct 10 2017

The Honeymooners

by at 11:16 am

Greetings from New Jersey! Harriet and I are returning to Philly tonight after attending the premiere of my brother Steve’s new show, “The Honeymooners,” a musical based on the classic TV show. It debuted at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, to a wonderful reception. This was the biggest moment of my brother’s composing career and I was thrilled beyond words for him. We’ll see what the critics have to say, but I think this show has a future. It was a night I will never forget.

Aside from the Eagles’ demolition of the Arizona Cardinals, the week was notable for my own Arizona engagement. I flew to Phoenix on Thursday after clinic to take part in a University of Arizona Cancer Symposium and delivered a keynote talk and learned about the wonderful science being done in Tucson and Phoenix. I also tried to wrap my head around the bewildering complexity of their ecosystem – both in research and with their multiple, competing partners. But, all in all, I had a terrific visit. Plus, I got to review and edit two more CCSG sections on the plane rides!
I am looking forward to this Tuesday’s Gift of Life Breakfast to support the CBCC.  Addressing and reducing the impact of health disparities is a core value of our Cancer Center.  We have a lot of ambitious ideas, and the CBCC was and will remain at the center of these efforts.
Have a good week.

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Oct 02 2017

We are not flies

by at 10:28 am

For those of you who read my blog last week, you will know that Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, ended on Saturday night. Saturday’s sermon could not recapture the majesty of the prior week’s sermon, but I heard one little nugget that captured my imagination. While contemplating mortality and the meaning of human existence, we were encouraged to consider the life of a fly. A fly born in 2017 will have an essentially identical existence to that of a fly born 5,778 years ago, or 5,778 years in the future. It has not really changed all that much, and has not developed (as far as I know) useful new ways to live its life. Yet human existence has radically transformed, highlighted in Yuval Harari’s wonderful book, “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind,” at a breathtaking pace that only continues to accelerate. You may think about the internet, but in my father’s childhood, miracles such as air conditioning, commercial air flight, vaccines, televisions, antibiotics and antibody checkpoint inhibitors simply did not exist. In another 90 years, I will bet that our descendants will smile wryly as they contemplate the primitive existence we experience today.  The point of the sermon was to emphasize the popular Spiderman aphorism, namely that with great power comes great responsibility.

Think of our own field. Ninety years ago, cancer was a mystery. Fifty years ago, the miracles of corticosteroids and derivatized chemical weapons were the alternatives to mutilating, risky surgery and early forms of radiation therapy. The immune system was widely considered to be irrelevant to human cancer. The great debates of the day raged about whether cancer was caused by genes, environmental exposures or infectious agents. CT scans debuted in the clinic when I was in medical school. Yet here we are today, probing the molecular architecture of cancers, curing people with horrible metastatic diseases through either precision cancer medicine, effective immunotherapy or the wise application of increasingly sophisticated chemotherapy regimens, aided by effective and safe surgery and precision radiation therapy. All this has happened in a blink of the eye of history. We are not flies; we do not simply react to external events, we learn and use our knowledge to shape our future. That responsibility falls to us.
What’s the future of the field of cancer research? Nobody can know for sure, but I remain hopeful, even in these perilous times for funding. I am an incurable optimist and hope to never lose that perspective. I tend to take the long view, and see a more or less continuous arc of human progress throughout history, and expect that in our field, we will continue to lurch forward, no doubt in fits and starts, until we have conquered cancer. First there will be more cures, then those cures will come with less toxicity to the patient, and finally cancer therapy will be truly pre-emptive and preventative. As I have worked this weekend on our CCSG competitive renewal, I remain animated by those ideas and am delighted to see the full breadth of wonderful work being done by Lombardi scientists and physicians.
I have more work to do tonight, but the effort will be lightened by the knowledge that the Eagles pulled off a hard-fought 26-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon. Perhaps they too are learning!
Have a great week.

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