Louis Weiner's Weblog


Aug 14 2017

Last Blog Before September!

The summer has been busy. This is my last week before we go on an eagerly awaited vacation at the beach. I’ll spend some of the time working, no doubt, but there is something about the sea air that makes the work seem easier. How time flies!

Last week was highlighted by a few meetings – one at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and another at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital – as we continue to develop the cancer network. It is an exceedingly complex endeavor, but at the same time, the effort is well worth it as we secure a sound clinical base for the important research at hand. I also had some outstanding meetings with grad students in my lab, as we work through really exciting data regarding the molecular determinants of ADCC resistance (led by Dalal Aldeghaither, assisted this summer by David Zahavi) and the molecular determinants of pancreatic cancer resistance to immune attack (led by Reham Ajina, newly returned from maternity leave, with the able collaboration of Garrett Graham, now working in Jeff Toretsky’s lab). All of this is happening as we gear up a pancreatic cancer SPORE effort, to say nothing of preparing for the CCSG renewal.

The coming week promises to be quite busy, but I can handle anything knowing that the car will be loaded by Saturday morning for our drive to the beach!

Have a great week. My blog will resume after Labor Day.

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Aug 07 2017

Building Translational Research Tools

As another glorious summer weekend winds down, I continue to plow ahead with the CCSG renewal and our pancreatic SPORE application. I guess I must be a glutton for punishment! But I am generally happier when I am busy. I had an interesting highlight on Wednesday afternoon when I drove up to Columbia, MD to help Neil Weissman and my other colleagues roll out the MedStar-wide collaboration with Indivumed. Lombardi and MGUH have worked with Indivumed for nearly a decade, and this wider roll-out will be done in conjunction with our work here at the cancer center. It is another example of how the cancer center truly functions as the research engine of the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute. I look forward to seeing this extraordinary tissue collection – pristinely obtained, processed and annotated specimens of tumor, adjacent normal tissue, blood and urine – used to support Lombardi translational research for years to come.

We got a taste of the power of this approach in a paper we published in 2013 (Madhavan SM et al, Front Genet. 2013 Nov 20;4:236. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2013.00236. eCollection 2013. PMID:24312117). Now, as we begin to gear up for the pancreatic SPORE, we have a sample resource of more than 300 pancreatic adenocarcinoma patients – more than enough to support a wide variety of important studies. I hope that many of us will make use of this wonderful resource.

A busy week awaits, but our vacation looms at the end of August – and I cannot wait!

Have a great week.

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Jul 31 2017

Summer, a SPORE and Survivorship

Could there be a more beautiful summer afternoon than the one we had on Sunday? It was perfect. Harriet is recovering (beautifully) from back surgery she had a couple of weeks ago and is back to walking without limitations, which means we again are able to enjoy strolling around the city. We took a great walk on Sunday; I hit a few golf balls, some fairly well. Then, it was off to our oldest son’s place for a barbeque with all the kids and grandkids to celebrate our youngest son David’s birthday. We went out to celebrate with David and his wife Kelly Thursday evening at Centrolina in City Center. It’s a good place, but I thought the setting was better than the cuisine.

Last week started on a somber note as I attended a memorial service and reception in honor of Elizabeth Donohue, a Lombardi patient and former co-chair of the Lombardi Gala. Liz fought her disease with great courage and grace, as did her husband Tom. She will be missed by many, and remembered with enormous affection and respect.

I continued to meet with investigators who are interested in participating in the pancreatic SPORE throughout the week, and we are beginning to define and refine the projects. I am amazed by the depth and quality we have in this area of research.

We also had a really exciting initial meeting of folks interested in developing a formal cancer survivorship program at Lombardi. This will be a clinical program that is intensely multidisciplinary, and will have research embedded throughout. As many of you know, cancer survivorship is one of the themes of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program, and is also one of the Cancer Center’s crosscutting themes. The turnout was remarkable for a midsummer’s meeting, and I believe this augurs well for its future success.

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Jul 24 2017

No Vacation

This week’s blog is abbreviated because most of my work was done remotely, as Harriet had back surgery last Monday. I was not at work, but it did not feel very much like a vacation! She is doing well, and is most definitely on the mend. It’s really wonderful to have relatively straightforward and minimally invasive surgical solutions to problems that would have been permanently disabling (such as many back problems) only a century ago.

Contrast that, if you will, to the grim news we heard this past week regarding Senator John McCain’s newly diagnosed glioblastoma. It’s a powerful reminder for me, especially when contrasted with the progress that has been made in those areas of medicine where surgical solutions are routine, that we have a lot of work before us!
That is exactly what I will be back to doing, effective Monday. Have a great week.

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Jul 17 2017

All’s Well That Ends Well

My work week was very intense because of two day-long meetings on the NCI campus last week.  On Tuesday I chaired the Board of Scientific Counselors meeting. As always, we reviewed several major lab programs, with much intense discussion as we assessed the merits of many investigators. It was incredibly interesting, but there were a few tricky issues to consider. Anybody who thinks the NCI intramural program review process is not as rigorous as external peer review should spend some time as an intramural program reviewer. Then, on Wednesday I participated in the NCI CTAC meeting back on the NCI campus. The national clinical enterprise is really expanding; for example, the NCI Match trial is literally going to accrue thousands of patients who will receive mutation profile-directed cancer therapies. Trials like this are changing how cancer research is done. Even if the results are negative (and I think there will be some wins) it is a new era for the field of cancer research.

I continue to whittle away at my sections of the CCSG competitive renewal. But, I took a break over the weekend when Harriet and I went on a brief road trip to New York (because our planned train trip was derailed by a disruptive construction project at New York Penn Station) to see the hit Broadway musical revival of ‘Hello Dolly’. Harriet is a big fan of Bette Midler, who most certainly did not disappoint. She was fabulous; so was her co-star David Hyde Pierce (our own Nancy Morgan’s brother!). Having met Dave at Nancy’s retirement reception a couple of years ago made this a more personal experience for us. We stopped by after the show to chat with him briefly. He is a kind, gracious person – just like his sister! Hello Dolly is a great, hugely entertaining musical – an all-time classic. I can’t place it at quite the same level as my personal favorites – ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Hamilton’ – but I have rarely had more fun at a Broadway show. Ironically, we had to give up our tickets to see ‘The Originalist’ at the Arena Stage when the ‘Hello Dolly’ tickets became available. Luckily, our son Ken and daughter-in-law Sarah were able to get a baby sitter, used the tickets, and they loved the play. It’s so nice to have them living nearby. I guess that ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’ (apologies to Mr. Shakespeare).

I am taking off a few days early this week, but expect to continue to slog away at the CCSG until I return on Thursday. Have a great week.

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Jul 10 2017


Summer is certainly here. The pace of life has slowed a bit, and our work week was truncated by the July 4 holiday. I have had a chance to catch up on some needed work, such as completing my mandatory FY 2018 SITEL education module requirements for MedStar Health (I am going to be very busy later this year!), polishing off a required GUACUC module for our laboratory animal work, plowing through 5 CCSG shared resource write-ups and beginning to attack some of the Director’s Overview sections for our upcoming CCSG competitive renewal. This will be a summer filled with writing.

Harriet and I had a very pleasant weekend, starting with dinner with friends on Friday night, and a date night in Bethesda, with a light bite at the Silver Diner followed by a movie – the Big Sick – a charming romantic comedy that has earned every one of its 4 stars, in our opinion. And Sunday brought with it a chance to play golf on a wonderful course in basically perfect weather. The only thing wrong with an otherwise perfect afternoon was my lousy golf game. But, no matter – a bad afternoon of golf on a glorious day is still a spectacular and rewarding waste of time!

I hope you find time to waste a glorious afternoon or two as this summer continues to meander through our lives. Have a great week, and remember to drink plenty of your favorite non-alcoholic beverages as the temperatures rise!

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Jun 26 2017

An “Eventful” Week

We are enjoying the end of a wonderful weekend with our oldest grandson Isaac, who spent Saturday night with us. Peering inside the mind of a clever 6 year-old is very refreshing. Last night, we walked down to our favorite Chinese restaurant. While eating lo mein noodles, he simultaneously 1) described in enormous detail the intricacies of every new Pokémon character, 2) effortlessly performed multiplication, division and the use of negative numbers, 3) traced through a complex maze puzzle and 4) tried to find the longest noodle, hung it from his mouth and tried to have it reach the ground. I can do none of those things, with the exception of mathematical operations I learned when I was quite a bit older. Plus, I don’t have the delightful lack of self-consciousness of youth that would allow me to try the noodle trick in a restaurant, let alone think of it!

The weekend started with a Friday evening visit to the Kennedy Center to see a production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”. This show has played to great critical acclaim both in New York and now in DC. Technically it is a Broadway musical, and it is very thought-provoking, albeit in a deeply non-traditional way. Rodgers and Hammerstein would not recognize it as a musical but likely would find it very interesting!

I did get some work done this week too, but want to highlight two events I attended. The first was Monday evening’s Men’s Event at Morton’s Steakhouse on Connecticut Avenue. This annual event is always fun in a steak/wine manner filled with bonhomie and not a small amount of raucous laughter. The evening started with a cancer briefing I led, assisted by John Marshall, Sean Collins and an incoming radiation therapy faculty member, Jonathan Lischalk. This year’s edition set a record by raising more than $200,000, fueled by a remarkably fun and chaotic live auction led by the wonderfully rambling but utterly charming Paul Barry. I am deeply grateful to the event’s driving forces, Paul Schweitzer, the event co-chairs and committee, the sponsors and to Daphne Baker, who brought this wonderful event to us 18 years ago.

The fundraising week was bookended by the Lombardi Toss for the Cure event outside of Nationals Park on Saturday afternoon. This is a cornhole tournament sponsored by the Friends of Lombardi, our next generation of fundraisers. They have raised over $70,000 since the inception of this yearly event, and I am grateful to Mark Decker Jr, Michael Lopes and Kelly Decker Shires for their leadership of this year’s event. Thanks too to Lombardi’s Development team members, who ably staffed both of these events!

The coming week contains less fundraising but lots of work, including the Georgetown University Executive Committee retreat.

Have a great week.

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Jun 19 2017

Amtrak Edition

I am writing this blog, heading back to DC from Trenton, NJ after a brief weekend trip to be with my dad on Fathers Day. While he continues to do very well on therapy with ruxolitinib for his myelofibrosis, he is not immune to the sands of time. Once a big bull of a man, he is increasingly frail at the age of 90, and actually fell 10 days ago, injuring his back to the point that he needed ER evaluation and pain medicines. Seeing him navigate around his house fort the first time with the aid of a walker was reassuring, but sad. We treasure every opportunity to be with him.

The week started on Monday with a busy day, highlighted by my presentation that evening at the Dupont Circle Village’s Celeb Salon, held in a lovely townhouse on S Street. It is a fundraiser for the Village, which works to help local residents age in place with community support. We mingled for a bit, then had a lovely home cooked meal followed by about 90 minutes devoted to my remarks and lots of questions by the attendees. It’s good to get the word out about Lombardi, and to further embed us in our home communities.

On Tuesday I trained up to Manhattan to meet with some Lombardi donors that evening and again on Wednesday. Wednesday evening was highlighted by a joint fundraiser at the Waterfall Mansion and Museum (an art gallery) on East 80th Street, with Andrew Pecora and Andre Goy from Hackensack University Medical Center. It was great to meet some new supporters and to hang out on the Upper East Side – I lived there many years ago when I went to medical school, but I had forgotten that there is no place quite like it. This trip was a most pleasant reminder that our fundraising enterprise has really been taken to a new level of professionalism under Donald Dunn’s leadership. My work in New York was ably orchestrated by one of our newest development staff, Justine Weissenborn, and it was a pleasure to work with her.

I caught a very early train back to DC on Thursday, and hustled up to North Bethesda to help chair a SPORE review panel on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. This was extremely interesting and most timely, since we have a breast cancer SPORE in discussion, a developing pancreatic cancer SPORE that I hope to organize and other multi-investigator grants in the pipeline. There is nothing like being a part of the review process for other grants to prepare for one’s own submissions, getting a sense of what works and what does not. The ability to look at one’s own work from the outside-in, as it were, is incredibly valuable.

I got back into the office at around noon on Friday for a series of meetings and calls, including a call to coordinate presentations for a briefing of the House of Representatives on progress in cancer research. I have the privilege of chairing that panel, and look forward to discussing how the federal investment in cancer research has been and must remain the essential fuel for innovation and progress that saves the lives of countless Americans.

All in all, a busy week! I hope Amtrak doesn’t miss me this week.

And, I hope you have a great week as we formally head into summer.

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Jun 12 2017

Spinning Head Edition

I hardly know where to begin this week’s blog, so I’ll start at the beginning. That would be Chicago, where the ASCO meeting was highlighted by additional advances in cancer immunotherapy. I walked through an immunotherapy poster session and saw row after row of clinical trials that would have been oral presentations or even plenary session candidates only a few years ago. Even in the area of colon cancer, a new bispecific antibody targeting CEA and CD3 is showing serious promise. Having designed novel bispecifics (including the first trimeric, bispecific molecule) and conducted some of the earliest bispecific antibody clinical trials, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see this concept realize its potential to help people.

Speaking of immunotherapy, the Lombardi immunotherapy interest group met on Thursday afternoon, with presentations by Esther Chang (describing her immunoliposome treatment platform) and by a guest, Luca Rastelli, whose company has resuscitated the drug talabostat, which inhibits fibroblast activation protein and dipeptidyl peptidases 8 and 9. Talabostat, which was originally developed as a treatment for myelosuppression, turns out to have potent immunomodulatory properties and promotes the anti-tumor effects of anti-PD1 therapy. Since fibroblast activation protein (FAP) is densely expressed in pancreatic cancer, we are actively exploring ways to include it in our developing SPORE application. For me, this is deja vu all over again; I began studying FAP in the early 2000s, helping to define the importance of its catalytic domain, and then demonstrating its presence in pancreatic cancer fibroblastic stroma and even participating in a clinical trial of the drug in colon cancer. So, it is exciting to see where this reincarnation of interest might take us.

I flew out of Dulles on a 10:30 pm plane headed to Pittsburgh, to chair the Friday EAB meeting of the Pitt head and neck cancer SPORE, which of course focuses in large part on immunotherapy. I woke up early on Saturday morning for Lombardi’s disease group leader retreat, emphasizing our collaborations with Hackensack University Medical Center. It was a really vibrant meeting, filled with exciting new ideas for investigator-initiated clinical trials. At that meeting, we also discussed the appointment of a new NCI director, Norman (Ned) Sharpless, from the University of North Carolina. Ned has done a wonderful job as director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center (the “other” LCCC!) and I look forward to supporting him in my role as a cancer center director and as chair of the NCI’s Board of Scientific Counselors for Clinical Sciences and Epidemiology. I also want to give a shout-out to Dr. Doug Lowy, who did a simply wonderful job as acting director with enormous grace. The field of cancer research owes him enormous respect and gratitude.

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Jun 05 2017

ASCO Weekend

ASCO weekend means a short blog. It is a busy time, that’s for sure. Finally, we have a bit of good news for patients with colon cancer. A very large non-inferiority study shows that most people with relatively low-risk stage III colon cancer can be treated equally effectively with three months of oxaliplatin containing chemotherapy as opposed to six months . This reduces toxicity and improves quality of life for this large group of patients. Plus the treatments prevent metastasis in many patients. Just imagine – only 30 years ago, the standard was 12 months of far less effective therapy.

Sometimes it pays to broaden one’s horizons to accurately assess progress. While we still have a long way to go in this race, it’s getting harder to look back and find the starting line. That’s a good thing.

Have a great week.

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