Sarah Riehl's Weblog


Jun 04 2023


Greetings on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Highlights of the week were our kickoff planning meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the CCSG Site Visit on September 12. We began to update the Lombardi Strategic Plan to align with the submitted competitive renewal, and then considered the vignettes we want to highlight in each speaker’s presentation and on the posters. We also defined our preferred slide template. All in all, it was a lot of hard work, but it was immensely gratifying and very productive.

Then, on Friday it was announced that Dr. Ed Healton will be stepping down in about one year, with plans to launch a search for his successor in the coming weeks. I will share my thoughts in more detail in the future, but I do have a few preliminary comments.

At times, it can be easy to underestimate the body of work of a senior leader, but Ed has proven to be a highly effective, impactful leader in his eight years as EVP of GUMC. Nobody gets to decide what their legacies will be, but Ed will long be remembered, and I hope with appreciation, for the effective and sensitive way he led GUMC through the pandemic, which posed unprecedented challenges to academic medicine that linger to this day. That alone would be enough, but there is more. Under his leadership the School of Nursing & Health Studies was reimagined as distinct schools of Health and Nursing, and two terrific new leaders were identified and recruited for them. Outstanding new leaders were recruited for the School of Medicine, and for Biomedical Graduate Education and Research. Ed has supported the continued development of Georgetown Lombardi, has nurtured GUMC’s strategic relationship with MedStar Health, and has created what I believe to be unprecedented strategic alignments of GUMC with other GU campuses. To be sure, much work remains to be done, but a lot has been accomplished. Congratulations are in order.

If there is one thing I know about Ed, it’s that he will not go on cruise control. I have urged all of us to “run through the tape” as we approach our CCSG site visit. I have no doubt that Ed will be sprinting beside us, and then all the way through June 2024.

Stay safe and be well.



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May 29 2023

Wind at Our Backs

I hope you all had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend — and that you paused to remember those who have fallen in service to our country.

Mine was especially sweet because we successfully submitted our CCSG competitive renewal application last Thursday. Now, on to the Site Visit on September 12.

Plus, we crossed the 300-rider mark for the 2023 BellRinger ride! (Register to ride or volunteer here if you haven’t already).

So, we head into June with the wind at our backs. No hurricanes, either.

Stay safe and be well.


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May 20 2023

The Importance of Progress

Greetings on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I just sent in my final minor edits to the CCSG Director’s Overview, and most of the CCSG has already been uploaded. Just a few more things to do, and then it will be time to pivot to preparations for our September 12 site visit.

We all should be very proud of what we have accomplished in these past five years. We have had enormous scientific impact, with paradigm-shifting observations and practice-changing clinical trials. Even as the national cancer effort faces potential headwinds due to the evolving congressional standoff, we have put ourselves into position to succeed moving forward.

I read an unbelievable statistic earlier in the week. While cancer deaths have generally been on the decline since 2003, the greatest decrease in the United States has been in the District of Columbia, which has experienced a remarkable 61% reduction in deaths, the best in the nation, with the major impact in black men (source link). Undoubtedly, this progress has many causes, but as the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center based in DC, and as the dominant clinical care provider in the District, I am confident that we have more than played a part. And, at the end of the day, isn’t this what it is all about?

I write this with a sense of bittersweet irony. My mother died as a result of multiple myeloma 31 years ago this weekend; she was only 63 years old. She died just before the revolution caused by IMIDs began to transform multiple myeloma into a far more manageable illness with ever-increasing survivals. Georgetown Lombardi members such as David Siegel and David Vesole have made important contributions to this progress.

When I think of what my mother has missed — the accomplishments of her children and her grandchildren, the eight great-grandchildren she never got to meet — I am reminded of the cruelty of early death. When I think of all we missed by not having her in our lives all these years, the sense of loss is all the much greater.

So, as we celebrate our progress and a bright future filled with transformation, let’s not forget that what we do is more than cool science, more than publications, grants and plenary presentations. It’s about giving people back their futures, for themselves and for everyone who cares about them.

Stay safe and be well.




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May 14 2023

Blasts From The Past

Greetings from Delaware on a glorious Sunday afternoon. We snuck off to the beach to open up our house this weekend, and used a rainy Saturday afternoon to unpack and rearrange things. On this Mother’s Day weekend we were joined by Dave and his family. We had a blast.

The workweek was dominated by CCSG preparations; the grant is due in 11 days. I am doing last-minute reviews of a few sections. When I think back to all that we have accomplished in the past four-plus years, I am filled with gratitude to the many people who have worked so hard to achieve an important, common objective.

Just before I sat down to compose this blog, I received an email from one of my previous hematology/oncology fellows at Fox Chase, who finished his training about 25 years ago. He and I have not communicated for more than 10 years. Out of the clear blue sky, he was reflecting on his very successful life and career over the weekend and felt moved to reach out with gratitude for my role in his personal and professional development. He worked in my GI cancer clinic for a year, and we got along very well, but I never sensed that he felt especially close to me, and I would not say that we were friends. I was just doing my job, which included being a concerned and involved mentor to my trainees, sharing my pleasure in their triumphs and offering solace during difficult moments.

Naturally, I wrote a warm reply note, and realized that I receive such notes every few months from trainees who have not stayed in regular touch over the years. I am sure that many of you do as well. Though I have enjoyed more professional success than I had imagined could be possible, the note I received today reminds me of the impact I have had to help shape the lives of my trainees and students. When I think about the amplification factor — each mentee creates a penumbra of impact, a cloud of which I am a small part — I am deeply appreciative and more than a bit humbled to know that my example, teachings and perspectives echo through the years in ways that I could not have imagined. What a privilege, and what a responsibility. I wish I’d had the benefit of access to modern tools like those offered by our Cancer Research Training and Education Core. For all the mentoring successes I have had, I wonder how many were left behind?

Many years ago, when my hair was not yet gray, Stan Gerson (now the chair of our EAC) and I were having lunch at some meeting, and we were waxing philosophical about what we wanted to be remembered for in our professional lives. I mentioned something about helping to harness the potential of immunotherapy; he was doing gene therapy, but said that he wanted to be remembered as a great teacher and mentor. As usual, Stan got it right. Most of us will have more impact as mentors than we will as scientists, and that is OK.

In 1945, my mother’s family in Belgium took in a young woman, Etyl, an Auschwitz survivor who had lost her entire family in the Holocaust. My mother and she remained close, and we consider Etyl’s family to be our family. Her oldest daughter, Mimi Leder, is a prominent film director. One of her most famous movies is “Pay It Forward.” I guess that is what I have done, and it gives me great satisfaction.

But now, back to work…

Stay safe, be well, and remember that everything we do impacts the future!




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Apr 30 2023

Celebrating Lombardi

It has been quite a weekend!

On Friday evening, The Cancer Letter ran a cover story about our newly dedicated Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention. If you have not yet read it, you can do so here, along with another piece featuring me and Lucile Adams-Campbell and an interview with David Lauren. I thought the new center was a big deal; apparently, I am not alone!

Then, on Saturday evening we had our 35th Lombardi Gala, held at The Anthem. It was a wonderful event. Everything about the event was wonderful — the program, the venue the food, the weather, and the shared sense of mission and purpose. We raised over $1.2 million dollars to support cancer research and had a great time doing it. Congratulations to our event co-chairs, Kevin and Mary Reilly, and to our awardees: the Schweitzer and Siegel families, Carolyn and Herb Kolben, Coach Ron Rivera of the Washington Commanders, and our own Cecil Han. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the events team led by Cristy Seth, and bade a fond farewell to Sharon Courtin, who is retiring on a high note following her final gala.

I was eligible for my next COVID booster, and took advantage of the relative lull on a rainy Sunday to get my vaccine. It’s not the cause for celebration that it was when I received my first COVID vaccination in December 2020, but I am happy that I was able to be proactive about protecting my health.

The coming week will be busy as we lock down the CCSG sections in preparation for our competitive renewal submission later this month. But, we have a lot to celebrate!

I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week, as I’ll be out of town.

Stay safe, be well and feel free to join me in celebrating Lombardi!




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Apr 23 2023

Basking in the Afterglow

I am still basking in the afterglow of the celebration of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention. The event on Monday was simply marvelous. We were delighted to welcome David Lauren (Ralph’s son) to the event, and he could not have been more gracious. The lunch that followed, on the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel, was equally remarkable. One of the honored guests was Dr. Harold Freeman, who literally conceived of and brought to life the field of navigation to minimize cancer burdens in underserved communities. After his lunchtime remarks, I marveled with the attendees that I felt as if I had just heard George Washington describe the founding of the United States.

Then, late on Tuesday afternoon, the Ralph Lauren store in Georgetown hosted a reception to celebrate the new center and invited their customers, Georgetown Lombardi leaders and others to attend. That wonderful event crackled with energy and a sense that we are on to something really good that matters in the Washington, DC, community.

The CCSG is due in 31 days. We are on schedule, but there certainly is a lot to do. I spent much of the week reviewing CCSG sections, and was delighted to have the privilege of introducing Cecil Han as the John Potter Rising Star awardee and lecturer on Friday. Cecil gave a thoughtful and very impressive presentation. Despite the Zoom format, we were delighted to welcome Tanya Potter Adler, who represented the Potter family.

The coming week is going to filled with CCSG preparations, mixed in with participation in two cancer center virtual EAB meetings. I am looking forward a quick trip to New Jersey on Wednesday to attend Hackensack’s Symposium on multiple myeloma. And then, we have our annual Lombardi Gala on Saturday evening at the Wharf. It promises to be an exciting evening. I am tired just thinking about the week before me!

Stay safe and be well.



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Apr 16 2023

With Health Equity and Justice for All

When I moved to DC to take the job as Georgetown Lombardi director, I did so with the conviction that everybody, irrespective of race, socioeconomic status or ethnicity, deserved equal care. Fifteen years later, I now know I was wrong, because everyone deserves the best possible opportunity for a favorable cancer outcome — be it prevention, early detection, treatment or cure. Some folks need more help than others to make it happen.

When I moved here, I had this idea that we could reduce disparities in cancer outcomes if only we could provide everyone with comprehensive navigation and support. We now know it can work, but sadly have learned that society has a limited appetite for devoting the necessary resources to make it happen, even though it would ultimately save resources as well as lives.

It is Sunday evening. I just returned early from the AACR meeting on the same plane as Lucile Adams-Campbell. It was for the very best of reasons — on Monday morning, by the time many of you read this blog, we will have dedicated the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention, greatly expanding the scope of our prior Capital Breast Care Center. This is a huge moment for Georgetown Lombardi (I received many congratulations from fellow cancer center directors at the AACR meeting), for our community and for our partnership with the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation.

But make no mistake — establishment of the new center is a milepost, not a destination. Too many of our neighbors face longer odds than are needed with respect to cancer, and we have a lot of work in front of us to achieve the dream that has animated our efforts over the past 15 years. Enhanced navigation through more comprehensive screening will make a big difference, as will the work done through our Health Justice Alliance. Much remains to be done, but we are in a better position to make a difference than ever before.

I wrote a recent blog that celebrates Georgetown Lombardi’s many accomplishments over the past five years. If we maintain our momentum and transform cancer care for our historically underserved neighbors in the process, I will permit myself just a bit of pride in having had a role in Lombardi truly living Georgetown’s commitment to cura personalis.

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing founding director John Potter also know about his passionate commitment to health equity and early cancer detection. How lovely that his inspiring vision lives on through the work that we do.

We are so fortunate to have the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation as a visionary partner in this mission. It sure doesn’t hurt to field an all-star lineup led by Lucile!

Let’s make the world a better place, today and every day.

Stay safe and be well.


PS: I hope you’ll attend the Potter Lecture this Friday, presented by Cecil Han, PhD, recipient of this year’s John F. Potter, MD, Award. You can find more information in this week’s newsletter.



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Apr 09 2023

I Wish I Were an Atom

I hope you had a meaningful holiday weekend. This week’s blog is a bit abbreviated, just like this past workweek. I spent quite a bit of time reviewing many of our major CCSG sections. I am admittedly biased, but I genuinely approached each section as if I were a CCSG site visitor. I like what I see. A lot.

We still have to lock down the write-ups and finish a review of the sections that remain. From my vantage point, I cannot remember a time when our science, translation and impact were higher. Now, we are in the homestretch, and the finish line is in sight. Let’s run through the tape, prepare for our site visit and derive satisfaction — but not complacency — for what we have accomplished and all that we are poised to do.

I am going to the annual AACR meeting on Friday, but have to return in time for next Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for our new Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention. This is an exciting moment for us, and for the many medically underserved people we will be able to help moving forward. Kudos to Lucile Adams-Campbell for her decades of distinguished efforts that have led to this moment. I will have to miss some very important AACR events, such as the thrill of hearing our daughter, Elana, speak at Monday’s opening Plenary Session, but I am not an atom, and I can’t be split. I will watch her on video instead, while celebrating new hope for our neediest neighbors. She says she forgives me — but this is going to cost us some serious babysitting duties!

Stay safe and be well.




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Apr 02 2023

A Retreat to Remember

The absolute highlight of the week was our first annual Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center Consortium retreat, which was held on Friday night and Saturday. Supported by a generous donation, the retreat had a singular objective — to create actionable outcomes such as collaborative grants and investigator-initiated clinical trials that leverage our strengths across the consortium.

The process actually started in January, when the Georgetown Lombardi Senior Leaders Committee approved the project and released a request for one-page proposals for collaborative research. Thirteen groups responded, and four projects were eventually selected by the committee for further evaluation, focusing on: 1) improving the efficacy of CAR-T cell therapy; 2) developing immunotherapies for colon cancer; 3) identifying and targeting novel oncogenes in glioblastoma; and, 4) designing and implementing dynamic precision medicine to treat myeloproliferative disease. Each selected group was asked to prepare a presentation for the retreat and to provide a clear set of specific aims, timelines and budgets to achieve their objectives.

A group of about 30 people converged on a hotel in Philadelphia (to minimize travel burdens on the group). We started off with a one-hour reception punctuated by brief presentations by me, Bob Garrett (president and CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health), Eugenie Dieck from the President’s Office (representing Georgetown), Mike Sachtleben (representing MedStar Health), and Georgetown Lombardi Deputy Directors Mike Atkins, David Perlin and Andre Goy. Then, we had a brief walk to a wonderful Greek restaurant, Estia, which is across the street from the Philadelphia Academy of Music.

A Zoom meeting this was not. I think we all were incredibly energized to personally engage with colleagues we have known all too often through their two-dimensional Zoom images. Nothing can beat the pleasure of breaking bread together, having “offline” conversations and experiencing the joy of bonding over a common objective.

The good vibes continued on Saturday morning. After breakfast, Lucile Adams-Campbell and Lisa Carter-Bawa from New Jersey discussed our catchment area, its needs and how Georgetown Lombardi science needs to be responsive to the community and its needs. Neil Weissman from MHRI was particularly intrigued by the approach we use to focus on the community. Then, each team made its presentation to the larger group. Andrew Ip, from JTCC (who I found out grew up 20 minutes away from me and shares my passion for Philly sports), discussed several ideas for improving CAR-T cell efficacy in collaboration with Yi Zhang and Noa Biran from New Jersey and Alaa Ali at MedStar Georgetown; in our discussion, we recommended that the proposal emphasize the role of the EZH2 transcription factor (building on Yi’s work) in promoting the survival of infused CAR-T cells.

Binfeng Lu, also from JTCC, is teaming up with Martin Gutierrez and Kevin Tong from New Jersey and Ben Weinberg from MedStar Georgetown to develop checkpoint antibody therapy for colorectal cancer. In the discussion, Mike Atkins suggested that the therapy include an anti-PD1 antibody plus a novel, high potency anti-CTLA4 antibody that shows efficacy in colon cancer, and that the treatment be administered neoadjuvantly. This suggestion galvanized a discussion for a new ITT with high potential for patient benefit, and for the development of a companion R01 or R21. Laura Rozek noted that this project offers new opportunities to engage diverse populations.

Nagi Ayad, Rob Suter, Ben Tycko from JTCC and George Kaptain, a neurosurgeon at Hackensack, propose to employ a novel epigenetics platform and workflow developed by Ben to identify novel oncogenic drivers of glioblastoma and then to identify the potentially targetable pathways that they drive. This work is not yet ready for an IIT, but certainly has the potential to attract funding with a bit more preliminary data.

Finally, Bob Beckman teamed up with Gary Kupfer and Alvin Makohon-Moore from New Jersey to use Alvin’s promising long-term culture methods to evolve and characterize resistant subclones from myeloproliferative disorder patient samples; Bob provides the mathematical modeling inspiration, and Gary is providing clones with defined mutations to facilitate this work. At David Perlin’s urging, this team plans to accelerate its efforts to apply for peer-reviewed funding.

After lunch, each group went into a lightly facilitated breakout room session to refine its proposal. We then reconvened for a brief read-back session and closed out the retreat in the midafternoon.

It was a fabulous experience. Like many retreats, we emerged with a greater sense of familiarity, unity and purpose. Unlike many retreats, we emerged with a set of concrete plans. Our Senior Leaders Committee will allocate cancer center resources to help each of the teams succeed. We will have each team present to the Georgetown Lombardi Executive Committee in a few months to describe their work and progress to date, and will continue to monitor and support each team. This is a great way to foster translation, to build community and to lay the groundwork for high-impact work that builds upon the best of what we have to offer to the world. Watch out for next year’s retreat, which promises to be at least as productive!

Many thanks to Daniella Galbo, Allison Moya and Sharon Levy for their contributions to the success of the retreat, and to Andrew Pecora and Ihor Sawczuk from New Jersey for providing the stimulus and identifying the resources to make this happen.

Stay safe, and be well.




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Mar 26 2023

Called to Be

Greetings. We had an interesting weekend, as we headed up to Manhattan to see our niece perform in the show “Titanique,” which she co-wrote and in which she also has the lead role. Her image is plastered on posters in Penn Station and on the sides of buses. We are so proud of her. It is eerie but impossibly sweet to remember her as a 3-year-old spontaneously hopping onto tables in restaurants to belt out the song “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie.” I guess I really can say that she was called to be a singer and stage performer. It was a marvelous evening of theater.

I worked on the CCSG on the trains to and from New York; I was going to focus on another CCSG-relevant section in this blog, but then this happened.

As you know, Georgetown recently launched the Called to Be campaign, a $3 billion ambition to advance our university’s commitment to empowering principled leaders and skilled problem-solvers and strengthening the health and social fabric of communities worldwide. Earlier this week, I was asked by Advancement to answer a few questions that they will use in publications. The exercise of thinking about these questions was a good one. As I share my responses with you, I’d encourage you to also think about what you are Called to Be. Here are the questions and responses.

Many of Georgetown’s faculty and students are working to advance the health of people and the planet. Can you talk about your work toward that goal?

The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s mission is to pursue transformative research and its application in order to more effectively prevent and treat cancer while eliminating disparities at the individual, community and global levels, guided by the principle of cura personalis, “care for the whole person.” Our vision is to impact our diverse catchment area, the nation and beyond by pushing scientific knowledge, creativity, and application; serving all with compassion, equity and respect; and preparing individuals who will devote themselves to reducing the severity of cancer on the individual, family, and community through improved access to care. This is my passion, and this is why I have chosen to work at Georgetown for the past 15 years.

  1. Why is Georgetown the best place for your work?
    The University lives its credo of cura personalis, which embodies our values and represents the ideal we strive to achieve.
  2. Why is now the right time for your work?
    Scientific and clinical accomplishments and impacts ring hollow unless they are coupled with meaningful action in service of improved health and equitable outcomes for all. I can think of no place better equipped than Georgetown to turn this idea into action.
  3. What makes you the most excited about your work?
    The thrill of scientific discovery and the satisfaction of helping patients navigate their personal journeys towards the prevention, early interception and cure of cancer.
  4. What makes you most optimistic about Georgetown and this work moving forward?
    Georgetown is the right place and the right time for the work we do. I am especially excited to work with our trainees, whose paths towards advanced degrees and certifications add inspiration and vigor to our scientific endeavors. They keep us all on our toes!
  5. What do you feel you are called to do and be?
    I am called to be a change agent, and to help make the world just a bit better by doing work that matters, has impact, and brings with it struggle, satisfaction and the joy of doing something well. Georgetown has given me opportunities to pursue my research, clinical care, mentorship, education and leadership. I am grateful and proud to be here.

Now, back to work. Have a great week. Stay safe and be well.



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