Archive for March, 2022

 

Mar 27 2022

Momentum!

by at 5:32 pm

Can you feel the momentum? Traffic is worse, the streets are bustling and people are congregating. At least for now, the pandemic is taking a back seat to life. Let’s hope this is a harbinger, and not a brief respite. We can handle a few more hills and valleys here and there, but please, no more mountains and gorges!

I actually took a business trip on Friday. I trained up to Hackensack and then back home, uneventfully, and while there met with an extraordinarily impressive group of clinical investigators and scientists to discuss “big ideas” related to cellular therapy. Yi Zhang and Howard Xue are developing innovative strategies to enhance the fitness of CAR-T cells, and John Theurer Cancer Center has an impressive array of CAR-T clinical trials in multiple myeloma and lymphomas. NK therapeutics are being tested in leukemias, and CAR-NK cell treatments are now being studied in solid tumors. Many of these studies are being opened in DC as well. This is an important part of the future of cancer therapy, and I am glad we are a part of it.

However, while this is a great start, we aspire to lead in this area. While we wait for Howard’s and Yi’s technologies to mature to clinical translation, we will push forward with innovative IITs of CAR-T therapies in multiple myeloma, guided by Noa Biran; of NK therapies in acute leukemias, guided by Jamie McCloskey; and of CAR-NK cells in solid tumors, guided by Martin Gutierrez. Georgetown Lombardi Shared Resources will be critically important, as will the DC-based translational and clinical research infrastructure, amplifying the impact of this work, led by Geoff Gibney, Pashna Munshi and many others. David Perlin, Michael Atkins, Andre Goy and I will work to establish a GMP cell processing capability so we can innovate new cell therapy concepts in small pilot clinical trials. Clearly, this was a great meeting! I plan to return to New Jersey soon for our next meeting, which will focus on the intersection of cancer and infection. Momentum!

My long day on Friday followed a longer Thursday that ended on a thrilling note. After pandemic-induced postponements in 2021, we had an in-person (can you believe it?) gala at a marvelous new venue, The Anthem. Attendance was less than usual, out of an abundance of caution, but the energy was fabulous and we raised a lot of money to support cancer research. I am deeply indebted to Cristy Seth, Sharon Courtin and the rest of the Lombardi Gala team for expertly navigating unprecedented logistical and public health challenges to pull off this great event. Thank you!

In addition to the $1.1M raised at the event, we celebrated the announcement of a $10M gift from David Sumner to support the establishment of a vaccine-focused cancer immunotherapy center developed and led by Samir Khleif. We also acknowledged, with gratitude, the transformational $50M gift from Grant Verstandig, and the Verstandig Family Foundation, to support the Medical/Surgical Pavilion at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. We were pleased to have Grant’s parents, Toni and Lee Verstandig, join us. As if that were not enough, the attendees were treated to the haunting vision of the cancer center director looking like a clown while impersonating a BellRinger participant. More momentum!

You can see photos and read more about this year’s Lombardi Gala here.

Finally, I want to share a piece from the best writer in our family, my daughter-in-law, Kelly Scriven Weiner. She recently published a piece in JAMA Otolaryngology that places into perspective her experience as a mother and physician when our grandson Clark was born with a serious heart defect. Her piece moved me to tears. Kelly now works at MGUH, and she gave me permission to share this remarkable story.

To access the full article, visit the JAMA Otolaryngology page for the article here, then click the “Access Through Your Institution” option and enter “Georgetown University Medical Center” and your NetID when prompted (see these instructions from Dahlgren Memorial Library for details). Alternately, search for the article: “The Golden Hour—A Pediatric Otolaryngologist Reflects on Becoming a Mom in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit” using DML’s “Journal Finder” search option.

Happily, Clark continues to do extraordinarily well. Even more momentum!

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Mar 20 2022

Please, No Cake

by at 10:41 pm

We spend so much money to save lives. Newborn and adult ICUs, life-saving cardiac surgeries, cancer surgeries, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, stem cell therapies, chimeric antigen T cells — each of these can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for each patient, all to treat a single person in the hopes of saving one life.

Add to that the billions spent yearly in the public sector on life-saving therapies, multiplied manyfold by the investments of (and returns to) the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. Saving lives is an affirmative statement of our values and is good business to boot. While the United States is by no means the only nation that values human life, we have, perhaps because of our unprecedented and unrivaled prosperity and resources, taken the concept to its fullest extent to date.

In this country we debate, properly so, whether we can continue these practices in the face of an apparently inexorable climb to fiscally unsustainable levels. Yet we resist, partly because of the billions to be made, but also because the American narrative teaches us that, despite many tragic examples throughout our history, each of us is exceptional, and every life is precious. Putting aside the mind-numbing economics for a moment, think about what this says about how we value each human life. Through our actions, the answer is clear.

This answer resonates throughout our political history. A government of the people, by the people, for the people, a nation based on laws and led by those who guide but ultimately serve the people, is the proper home for a health system that focuses on the needs of individuals, no matter how sick they are. To be sure, the health system is deeply flawed, driven by the twin pillars of greed and intolerance. Far too little attention is paid to affirmative health practices, disease prevention and early disease management across our entire population. However, I challenge you to think of any physician or nurse who has not shed tears when one of their patients has been lost, despite heroic efforts to save their lives. This is who we are. This set of bedrock beliefs defeated the Axis in World War II and has created the miracle of global progress since the end of that terrible war.

Yet, here we are again. At face value, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which will go down in history as an epoch-altering atrocity, can be viewed as the twisted vanity project of an authoritarian megalomaniac. It’s hard to see past the heartbreaking images that flood our phones and TV screens. Without diminishing our sense of outrage and resolve to “win” this battle — though it’s still too early to know what “winning” means — the larger question here is whether the world to come will be one of laws that permit personal freedoms to flourish in our political, cultural and economic spheres, diminishing the influences of individualistic anarchy or identity-based tribalism. This is what the Ukraine is fighting for, what NATO is supporting, and why losing is not an option.

In the world imagined by Putin and his fellow travelers, only the “right” people will be granted freedoms, and only the privileged few will be granted access to life-saving therapies. The money so saved would be diverted to the self-indulgences of the elites. The rest of us will be advised to go eat cake. It will not be delicious.

Meanwhile coronavirus has rolled out its latest variant of concern. So far, we are in the clear, and in fact we will be holding our in-person Lombardi Gala this Thursday evening at a new venue, the Anthem, at The Wharf. The attendance will be smaller than in the past, but we have already surpassed our pre-Gala fundraising targets!

As we enter into a period of optional mask wearing on campus, let’s give space to those who wish to continue to masks. We don’t know their personal situations or preferences (and we shouldn’t ask). And, as always, stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Mar 13 2022

Broken Heart, Full Spirit

by at 1:57 pm

It is hard for me to not think about the Ukraine, about another war in Europe, threatening to engulf the continent. European wars are part of my family’s history, and those memories, transmitted to me through the experiences of my mother and her family, have shaped my worldview and my personality. I never truly thought that I too would live in a world where it could happen again.

After my mother died, my father spent the last 29 years of his life with Alina, who has become a member of our family. Alina is from Krakow, in Poland, and has lived in the United States for many years, becoming a citizen a few years ago. She retains very strong family ties in Poland and travels there frequently. She went to Poland a few weeks ago to attend the funeral of a dear friend’s mother. However, she did more than visit with family and old friends. Here is a lightly edited account of her trip with two people she did not know. Alina simply showed up to help. It is a reminder that when free people with courage and conviction band together to confront evil, that enemy has no chance. With her permission, this is what she wrote to us earlier in the week.


 

I am in Poland now, and “on the way” from Stalowa Wola to Krakow, I decided to drive to Przemysl, to help bringing Ukrainian refugees inside the country. I had to register as a driver and was able to get inside the “temporary camp” organized in an empty shopping center.

What I saw there was so dramatic that I was not able to take any pictures. I just wasn’t able to take out my camera and, in face of their tragedy, take pictures. WOMEN’S & CHILDREN’S WORLD is what I saw there. Thousands laying down on the floor, resting after their journey through Ukraine.

Olga and Lidia traveled from Charkow, in the Ukraine, for 5 days before reaching the border with Poland. Yesterday, I picked them up in Przemysl and within 2.5 hours brought them to Krakow. Their men didn’t want to hear about leaving Charkow. They stayed to fight. They, with others, stayed “on the streets,” as the women described, because everything is destroyed there.

When I met Olga and Lidia, and they learned that I am taking them to Krakow, they started to cry. A stranger in a strange but friendly country is taking them closer to their families in Krakow and Zurich. I gave them my phone to call their families. Again, tears and emotions.

But of all of this, seeing them meet in Krakow with a 14-year-old grandson of Olga’s, was one of the most beautiful I can remember. Despite more tears.

These women are safe now, but their men are not. I hope for them to meet with their husbands soon in a free Ukraine.

Ukrainian flag emojiMy heart is forever broken.

 


 

Alina’s heart may be broken, but her spirit is not.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

 

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Mar 06 2022

There Are Cancers, and Then There is Cancer

by at 3:04 pm

Last week, in the face of a cancer that threatens the Ukraine, Europe and Western civilization, I wrote that words fail. Unfortunately, my worst fears have been realized thus far. I believe that Putin will not stop unless he is stopped, somehow, some way. Only when cancers of the human spirit have been suppressed will the Ukraine have a chance to worry about cancers of the body.

My words may have failed, but other voices are strong. The editor of The Cancer Letter, Paul Goldberg, immigrated to the U.S. in 1973 with his family from the Soviet Union when he was 14 years old. For him, the unspeakable tragedy of this war has a most personal connection. With his permission, I am sharing a truly special issue of The Cancer Letter, focusing on the Ukraine. I hope you find the essays as meaningful and moving as I have. In addition, I’m sharing the WHO Situation Report #1 on the Ukraine emergency, which highlights “Excess morbidity and death from common illnesses due to disruption in services,” including cancer as a public health concern.

Stay safe, be well and count your blessings.

Lou

 


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

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