Louis Weiner's Weblog

 

Feb 26 2016

A Non-Stop Week

I am writing this week’s blog a few days early, as I’ll be in Knoxville, TN on Sunday evening and Monday for a meeting at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to discuss ongoing collaborative efforts between that laboratory and GUMC.

It has been a crazy busy week; each day seemed to begin at 7 am and end at 10 pm, just in time for me to check my emails. But there were some highlights. For example, I attended a Tuesday evening lecture by Abe Foxman, former leader of the Anti-Defamation League, at Copley Formal Lounge. He is a genuine hero in his battle to identify and diminish all types of discrimination and bigotry, and it was a thrill to meet him.

Thursday started off with a really nice data meeting presentation by one of my graduate students, Dalal AlDeghaither. She described an innovative strategy to identify the molecular determinants of resistance to immune killing, using a model system of antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). It is so stimulating and rewarding to work with students and watch them grow as scientists. Plus, I don’t mind it when the data are good! The bookend of that busy day (with a pretty busy clinic sandwiched in between) was a downtown kickoff meeting of the Men’s Event, a Lombardi-focused fundraiser that has been a major source of philanthropic support over the years. Our volunteers are my heroes; their tireless contributions on behalf of Lombardi research is inspiring.

I want to finish this blog entry by thanking Meghan Lasswell for her service here at Lombardi; she was instrumental in our communications efforts and was a superb editor of this blog during her time here. Thanks, Meghan, and best of luck in your future endeavors.

There may be a few lapses in my weekly blog over the next few weeks as we interview for Meghan’s successor. But, I’ll be back! Have a great week.

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Feb 16 2016

Remember to Bend Your Knees When Shoveling!

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day! I can’t believe we were treated to a cold and blustery weekend and a blast of snow on Monday. Harriet and I just got back from a quick weekend trip to Philly to celebrate our oldest son Ken’s birthday. On Saturday, we had a bit of a family party and had all of the grandchildren in one place, presumably infecting each other with their daycare-specific viruses. Since Eli and Ella were under the weather, Ken and Sarah were not particularly rested during our visit, but Eli seems to be on the mend.

Last week was highlighted by several important meetings. I traveled up to Hackensack on Monday afternoon to participate in the cancer institution’s planning activities for ramping up new research space in nearby Nutley, NJ. The enthusiasm for broadening and deepening the cancer research portfolio as part of our developing cancer center consortium was, if you will pardon the expression, infectious. And in that spirit, please make it a priority to attend Dr. David Perlin’s Oncology Grand Rounds this coming Friday. He is an infectious disease physician scientist who, with his colleagues, will be a major player at the Nutley facility. David is a world-class expert in dissecting and overcoming antimicrobial resistance, and looks forward to aggressively pivoting this work into the problem of resistance to cancer therapeutics. He is a very impressive investigator, and I predict his presentation will be informative and provocative.

The Georgetown University Board of Directors’ meetings dominated much of the rest of my week. The Committee on Medical Center Affairs (COMCA) meeting on Wednesday afternoon was notable for the enthusiasm of the committee regarding the Cancer Moonshot initiative and the continued progress of our work together with MedStar Health. That evening the after-dinner conversation centered on Jack DeGioia’s initiative on addressing minority-related disparities. Not surprisingly, Lucile Adams-Campbell was a featured member of the panel, and was passionate, eloquent and inspiring in describing her efforts to address minority health and health disparities in our catchment area.

The coming week will be highlighted by my participation in a NCI meeting up in Shady Grove that focuses on synthetic biology. It promises to be a very interesting meeting, and I look forward to understanding what it is that the NCI means by the term, ‘synthetic biology’! I’ll let you know as soon as I find out – I will be speaking about my lab’s work, and have been asked to chair a panel discussion as well.

Have a great week. Stay warm, and remember to bend your knees when shoveling.

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Feb 08 2016

Strengthening Connections

At the beginning of the week I feared that this week’s blog would have to explain why I was walking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I have had intermittent problems with my back for 40 years, with occasional bouts of low back spasms, always on the right side, never with an obvious precipitating cause. Usually I am sidelined for 1 – 2 weeks, and nothing works excepts for time.

This time was different. For the first time in my life I had a therapeutic massage that really broke the cycle of pain. I was feeling better by Tuesday afternoon and was basically asymptomatic by Thursday. Lesson learned. Some things can bend time.

So Thursday was a busy day. After clinic I attended the Immunotherapy Interest Group meeting in E501 to hear a presentation by Elizabeth Trehu from Jounce Therapeutics, which is developing an ICOS1 agonist antibody as a cancer immunotherapy agent. I had to leave early to hustle down to Jack DeGioia’s office for a dinner celebrating some of our leading Lombardi Gala volunteers. I was joined by Jack, Paul Tagliabue (Vice Chair of the Board of Directors), Bart Moore (Vice President, Advancement) and Donald Dunn (Director, Lombardi Advancement). Our volunteers have devoted endless passion and effort to assure that the Gala is successful every year. And it has worked: The Gala has raised over $23 million since its inception. It was a wonderful event, and the appreciation of the University for their efforts meant a great deal to our volunteers. It was an enjoyable evening and a lovely ending to a long day.

The coming week promises to be busy. On Monday afternoon I am taking the train up to Hackensack to help kick off a planning activity for Hackensack University Medical Center’s new research facility in New Jersey. Cancer research will be an important part of this facility, and will only serve to further strengthen our connections. It will be another late night, though, since I don’t expect to return to DC until about midnight (weather permitting).

Speaking of weather I hear that we have some snow coming. I hope we avoid another “snowpocalypse” and can get in a full week of interrupted work.

Stay warm and dry. And I hope your team won the Super Bowl!

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Feb 01 2016

Are You Done Digging Out?

Well, this sure was an interesting week! Usually, breathless weather forecasters try to ratchet up fears (and ratings) with blizzard watches in DC, which typically end up with a half-inch of slush on the roads. But this was one time when all of their apocalyptic hopes were realized. I hear it was a terrible blizzard.

I heard about, but did not experience, the brunt of the blizzard. Last Friday morning, Harriet and I boarded a plane for Miami, and we felt like refugees escaping an upcoming war. We had long been scheduled to fly out that day to attend the wedding of the son of dear friends, and to return on Sunday afternoon. Harriet had the foresight to reschedule our flight back to DC to Monday night, so we watched the unbelievable events of Friday night and Saturday on CNN. The only shovels we saw were on the beach. We got back on Monday night, when the runways and roads were passable, and I worked from home on Tuesday. We felt pretty lucky. I highly recommend traveling to someplace warm whenever a massive snowstorm is imminent, assuming the forecasts are correct!

The other highlight of our shortened work week was the visit of old friend and colleague Dan Hayes, who gave a wonderful Grand Rounds presentation about circulating tumor cells and liquid biopsies. This work started when he was a Lombardi faculty member, and he came back 15 years later as an extraordinarily accomplished thought leader, clinical scientist and incoming president of ASCO. This is yet another reminder of how Lombardi is a great talent incubator and impact generator.

It looks as if the coming week will bring no new snow so I am sure we’ll all be busy. It will be nice to get back into the swing of things. Have a great week!

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Jan 11 2016

Busy Weeks and Weekends

Greeting on an increasingly chilly Sunday evening. Harriet and I are on a train back from Philly to DC, via Baltimore. We had a bit of a crazy travel weekend. I had meetings up at Hackensack on Friday, speaking with a couple of candidates for various positions as we continue to build that relationship. Instead of riding back to DC on Friday afternoon, I got off at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Harriet had taken the train up, and arrived there about 2 minutes before me. She was waiting for me at the top of the escalator, along with our daughter-in-law Sarah, and our grandchildren Ella and Eli. Ella ran up to me to greet me, and all the troubles of the week (fortunately there were only a few of them) melted away for me. We drove up to Yardley for a big family dinner at my father’s place, and spent the rest of the weekend with Ken and Sarah, though we stopped in Baltimore on Sunday for dinner to celebrate our granddaughter Aviva’s first birthday with her and her family. We are actually missing the big playoff game, but I’ve seen a lot of football this weekend…

I spent the week focusing on a number of “big projects” related to Lombardi’s growing list of external relationships, and look forward to sharing progress with you on a number of fronts in the near future. I am really excited about the Experimental Therapeutics retreat on Monday evening, because we have a lot of good work to discuss, and we have a chance to identify and refine future opportunities for multi-investigator projects and grant applications.

I then have to go back up to Philly on Monday night for a meeting of the Fox Chase Cancer Center External Advisory Board; they are gearing up for their CCSG site visit later this month, and it will be nice to help them in that effort.

On a sad note I heard this evening that Mike Adams, who directed the MGUH internal medicine residency program, lost his courageous battle with glioblastoma over the weekend. Every time I let myself feel a bit smug about the very real progress we are making in the war on cancer, the cold water of harsh reality seems to hit my face. Mike’s passing is a stark reminder of the work that still remains to be done. Let’s get on with it.

Have a good and productive week. Lots of people are depending upon us.

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Jan 04 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope you have had a restful and joyous holiday season. I am refreshed and raring to go in 2016. There is a lot of important work to do, and I very much forward to achieving my New Year’s resolutions. They are:

1. I hope to increase my personal fitness, and to drop a few pounds in the process – not too many, but as a reflection of better conditioning and discipline.

2. I want to see my family – especially my grandchildren – a little bit more in 2016 than I did in 2015. Every moment with them illuminates and warms my soul.

3. I want to spend more time enjoying this city with Harriet and with our friends. There is so much to do and enjoy here.

4. I want to enjoy at least one winning record in 2016 by the Eagles, Phillies or Sixers. Is that too much to ask?

5. I want to read more great books in 2016 than I did in 2015.

6. I want to get another research grant in 2016 (who doesn’t?).

7. I want Lombardi to continue to make progress in fulfilling its potential to be a clinical care and clinical research powerhouse that serves the people of this great region.

8. I want our collaboration with Hackensack to deepen and enrich Lombardi’s capacity to achieve its potential.

9. I want to celebrate Lombardi’s successes in making transformative discoveries and identifying breakthrough therapies that make this world a better place in 2016.

10. I want to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer. I know that’s a lot to ask, but hey – you can’t score if you don’t shoot.

Have a happy and healthy new year, filled with happiness, discovery and impact.

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Dec 21 2015

‘Tis the Season

Greetings and Happy Holidays! As we head into Christmas and New Year’s, and the Georgetown University holiday, this past week saw many celebrations of the season. But the work of the cancer center, as always, came first.

We had a very rigorous and helpful External Advisory Committee meeting, which kicked off with a dinner at 1789 on Sunday night. In addition to the usual conviviality, a quartet from the Washington Men’s Chorus appeared twice to sing Christmas carols – making this a memorable EAC pre-meeting dinner for all of the attendees. We got down to work the next day, concentrating on critical issues facing Lombardi as we begin to move towards the competitive renewal of our CCSG in 2018. We sought the EAC’s advice on our collaborative science, our strategic planning and recruitment plans, our clinical research progress and our developing consortium with Hackensack. We received a good deal of useful feedback and look forward to receiving the EAC’s formal report in a few weeks.

We went right from the end of that meeting to a very well-attended retirement party for Phyllis Rand. It was a genuinely wonderful event, and many old friends attended, including former Lombardi directors Marc Lippman, Kevin Cullen and Tony Dritschilo. It reminded me that Lombardi is and has always been a family – and Phyllis is our matriarch. She sent us a card, which read,:

Dear Lombardi,

Thank you so much for the glorious retirement party. What a special send-off!

My years at Lombardi have taught me all about friendship, devotion and perseverance, and the power of what working together can produce – great things. It’s been quite a ride, and I am grateful to each and every one of you for your kindness and help all along the way.

Stay in touch and Happy Holidays.

Phyllis

We won’t get rid of her so easily, though; Phyllis was in the office the next morning, helping with the transition of Cheryl Dumsick to her new role.

Tuesday’s event was the annual Lombardi holiday party, held at the Leavey Center. Everyone – clinicians, nurses, research faculty and staff – was there. The room was incredibly and wonderfully crowded. It was another reminder of how many of us focus on the incredibly important task of understanding, preventing and curing cancer, and how we have the potential to evolve into a larger family.

Even though the year is winding down to its end, my calendar remains quite full. There is so much to do, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have a challenging set of responsibilities that invigorate me every day as we work to make a difference – both on a global level through our research, and one patient at a time.

This is my last blog for 2015. I wish each of you the happiest of holidays, and good health, peace, joy and continued great work in 2016. We will continue to make a difference. That thought will keep me warm through the coldest nights winter will have to offer.

P.S. Congratulations to the Washington football team on its victory on Sunday; it should have no difficulties in dispatching my woeful Philadelphia Eagles on its way to the NFC (L)East division title.

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Dec 14 2015

Under the Weather

Nothing much matters without health. You’d think I know that already, given what I do for a living, but I certainly received a refresher course this week. I started with symptoms of a cold on Monday, but got through the day and attended the Georgetown University Executive Committee holiday dinner on Monday night. By the end of the evening I knew a variety of over-the-counter cold medicines was in my immediate future. I soldiered through a busy day on Tuesday, and left early on Wednesday morning for the annual Antibody Engineering and Therapeutics meeting in San Diego. I got there in the early afternoon, and thought I was holding my own, but by the end of the afternoon I felt genuinely awful. Knowing that I was scheduled to chair a session and give two talks the following morning, I called in a prescription for the antibiotic Zithromax to a local CVS pharmacy and added a few more OTC medications. I am pretty conservative about using antibiotics, since they are over-prescribed and frequently unnecessary, but I took the plunge anyway.I then crawled into bed, dreading the evening.

Antibiotics can be miraculous on occasion. By the middle of the night, my congestion had eased, and while I was still dragging a bit. I made it through my sessions and gave my talks without too much difficulty. However, instead of staying that night I elected to jump on a flight and get home sooner rather than later. I landed at Dulles at 9 pm and was home an hour later. I took it easy on Friday, though I came into work for 4 or 5 hours. I had to because I had a lot of work to do!

Our External Advisory Committee is meeting on Sunday evening and Monday, and many folks have been working hard to prepare for the meeting. I want to give a special shout out to Sharon Levy, who has handled the logistics with aplomb and has us on course for a successful meeting.

One last note – I had a special day today with our grandson Isaac. His parents came down to DC to visit with friends and while Harriet watched Aviva, Isaac and I had a great pizza together at 2 Amys and then drove to the Verizon Center to watch the Hoyas beat UNC Wilmington in an uncomfortably exciting game. Isaac was a great pal, and he loved attending his first ever basketball game. I will remember and cherish the day I spent with him far longer than I will the bad cold that thankfully only caused temporary misery.

I hope you got your flu shot! Have a great week, and enjoy the holiday season as it begins to ramp up to its crescendo.

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Dec 07 2015

A Thank You to the CRC

I was sitting in the family room on Sunday afternoon, watching the early phases of what I assumed (along with the rest of the world) would be a beatdown of the Eagles by the Super Bowl champion, the New England Patriots. Reasoning that I had little to root for, I decided to write my blog. Go figure; the Eagles stunned the Patriots, proving that my blogging had the magical power to alter the outcome of a NFL football game. Now that we have dispensed with that fantasy (along with the one that the Eagles are actually good) I will now return to reality.

I want to start by noting that the performance of our clinical trials enterprise would not be possible without the exceptional efforts of so many people – our patients, doctors, nurses and clinic staff have truly embraced the idea of research-inspired clinical care. I really want to highlight the efforts of our clinical research staff – the nurses, coordinators, regulatory staff and data managers – who have progressively ramped up their activities while enhancing their professionalism – not an easy task. There is another group of people who have really taken on an enormous workload: our Cancer Research Committee (CRC), which as part of our Protocol Review and Monitoring System, reviews all new and continuing protocols for scientific merit and truly oversees our clinical research portfolio. Led by Claudine Isaacs, the CRC has been facing a progressively rising workload of studies of increasing complexity. Their regular meetings have become marathons because Lombardi is increasingly viewed as a premier destination for high-impact clinical trials. I am deeply grateful to the CRC for its work on behalf of our scientific mission, our patients and our investigators.

Speaking of our investigators, we are preparing for next week’s meeting of our External Advisory Committee meeting. I am working hard on my overview, which will set up a day where we will seek the EAC’s feedback on our three major areas of strategic emphasis: precision medicine, immunotherapy and cancer survivorship. We also will review our existing and planned multi-investigator initiatives. So, this week will be busy, even as we begin the holiday season’s many celebrations.

Have a great week.

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Nov 30 2015

Much to Be Thankful For

Even in the face of so much external turmoil – with the memory of Paris fresh in our minds, reeling from the murders of innocents in Colorado Springs, and hearing about all of the world’s troubles in hot spots like Syria and Iraq – it is important to note that experts consider this era to be the safest in recorded history. If that seems impossible to you, remember that there have been no world wars, and few of us spend our days and nights worried about being eaten by predators. But, through the miracles wrought by technology, we are instantaneously made aware of atrocities, limited or extensive, natural or man-made, in real time, and in living color. The troubles of relatively few, however heart-wrenching, become part of our communal information-age experience. Perhaps this is a good thing – all unnecessary suffering is and should be intolerable. But, it can be scary.

Let’s not forget that we live in the most incredible society ever created by humans, with comforts, resources and access to information that would have been unimaginable throughout the long sweep of human history. These benefits would have been restricted (if they were available at all) to the most exalted members of society only a few generations ago. Our ancestors, who worried about staving off starvation, would scoff if told that many contemporary societies have to contend with an obesity epidemic! We are now able to address internal enemies, such as cancer, depression, neurological disorders and heart disease because we have the luxury of knowing that we are pretty safe and well fed. So, we have good reason to give thanks, not only on Thanksgiving Day, but any day that dawns where we and our loved ones awaken safe and well, with the prospects of three (or more!) meals in the day to come, leavened by the blessings of freedom and opportunity.

I am thankful for so many things this holiday season. We kicked off our festivities by having the entire family down to our home for Thanksgiving weekend. Being surrounded by our children, grandchildren and my father was incredibly meaningful. The meal was great, and I rejoiced in the happiness and health of our clan. All that, and I have a great job in a wonderful city. Who could ask for more?

Well, I would have been happier had the Eagles not behaved like turkeys on Thanksgiving Day as they were blown out for the second straight week to a second-rate team. For Philadelphia sports fans, now is the winter of our discontent.

Have a great week.

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