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Jun 14 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 454

by at 7:15 am

Life in the time of coronavirus is beginning to revert to normal. No masks. Feels kinda normal… Vaccines work.

What a glorious weekend! We are at the beach, as is my new bicycle. We got here on Saturday afternoon, and I took advantage of the opportunity to do a 10-mile bike ride along Coastal Highway on Sunday. I had an absolute blast. My legs are well conditioned as a result of my stationary bike workouts at home, but my wrists and hands were not used to my prolonged death grip on the handlebars. No matter; I plan to continue riding as I gear up for the BellRinger ride in October. I am still looking for you to join my team; remember that I can provide up to $500 in vouchers to defray your fundraising commitment should you have difficulty in raising the money. As of today, we have 22 teams and 80 riders across the university, and have already raised over $200,000. Join me!

The past week was highlighted by an informal reception at the Glover Park Grill on Friday afternoon to say thank you and goodbye to Subha Madahavan, who joined us in 2008, and is moving on to a wonderful new opportunity at AstraZeneca. Subha, a genuine force of nature, made innumerable contributions to Lombardi during her time at Georgetown. I took the liberty of lifting some text from her farewell message (see below), in case you did not have a chance to read it. I am sure you will agree she leaves with a remarkable legacy.

Please join me in wishing nothing but the best for Subha as she embarks on the next stage of her career. It has been an absolute privilege to work with her, and it is nice to know that she will continue to be part of our work, albeit in an adjunct capacity, moving forward.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou


From Subha:

As I look back on my 12 years at Georgetown, I am struck by how far data science and informatics have come at the University, and how different the medical center looks in 2021 compared to 2009. I have been asked many times during the last month what I consider to be my most cherished accomplishments at Georgetown. Although I cannot answer that question comprehensively, given the number and variety of field-changing innovations occurring nationally and globally that our team has either led or participated in, I will mention a few here:

  1. We established the Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics (ICBI) as a hub for cutting-edge research in biomedical informatics at GUMC.
  2. We envisioned and developed Georgetown Database of Cancer (G-DOC), one of the first web-based, now patented, Systems Medicine platforms used by over 2000 researchers from 48 countries to conduct cancer genomics research. On August 17th, 2018, then head of Biden Foundation and the Cancer Moonshot program, President Biden congratulated Lombardi for making a valuable brain tumor dataset freely available to the cancer research community through G-DOC. He not only posted about this on Twitter but also placed a personal phone call to our Cancer Center.
  3. We were an integral part of the joint team between Georgetown University and Medstar health that led the establishment of a data sharing and a Business Associate Agreement that enabled institution-wide secondary use of patient data for research purposes. This agreement has been the foundation that catalyzed multiple funding opportunities for the University including but not limited to, Georgetown Howard Universities CTSA, Breast and Colon Cancer Family Registries, In Silico Centers of Excellence for Cancer Genomics, Clinical Genomics Resource, Big Data to Knowledge Consortium (BD2K), and Clinical Proteomics Tumor Consortium.
  4. In partnership with UIS, we implemented and maintained the REDCap clinical data platform which supported over 100 investigators across 270 projects in multiple areas — biospecimen repository (55%), translational medicine (22%), clinical research/experimental therapeutics (9%), quality of life improvement (9%), behavioral and psychological research (5%). Novel high impact projects supported through this platform include the study of HIV transmission dynamics in Washington DC, the lung screening program, tobacco and health clinical study, DecideText, mobile cessation support for Latino smokers and a study to develop new treatments for language disorders.
  5. We co-developed and launched a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the edX platform titled “Demystifying Big Data” with >6,000 students registered across the globe.
  6. We led the University team with collaborators across medical and main campus in various data science challenges including NCI DREAM, Kaggle, COVID data challenge, PrecisionFDA and many others.
  7. Our capacity to develop highly usable informatics and data science methods and tools in collaboration with the basic, translational and clinical research communities is reflected in our participation in the Global Alliance for Genomics Health (GA4GH), The Cancer Genome Atlas, ClinGen, NCI Data Commons, R2D2 COVID consortium and many others.
  8. Our commitment to open science to improve reproducibility and reuse is witnessed by 56 active software development projects on ICBI’s GITHUB (icbi.github.io). These toolsets include components of G-DOC, CDGNet for cancer genomics networks, eGARD for natural language processing of unstructured research and clinical texts, SNP2SIM for computation simulation of protein binding, ViGen for viral genome analysis and CINIndex for assessing chromosomal aberrations.
  9. We developed novel artificial intelligence methods to derive insights from health data for detecting suicidal ideation among veterans, predicting opioid overuse in surgical patients, and extracting immune-related adverse events in cancer patients treated with immunotherapies.
  10. Partnering with Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, we launched the Cloud-First initiative for machine learning-driven biomedical discovery at the University.
  11. In collaboration with BGE, we launched a new graduate program in health informatics and data science (HIDS) to educate the next generation of data scientists who will transform how medicine is practiced and research is conducted. In spite of the global pandemic, the graduate program continues to attract students from around the globe.
  12. Our annual Big Data in Biomedicine Symposium attracted over 300 participants each year from academia, federal agencies and private industry since its launch in 2012.
  13. Above all, we recruited and trained >25 data scientists and informaticians who have thriving careers in academia, government or industry.

 

 


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Jun 07 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 447

by at 7:15 am

Summer has arrived a bit early. Harriet and I drove up to northern New Jersey for a wedding this weekend and spent time with Dave, Kelly and their kids. Their son Clark is now over 3 months old and is doing wonderfully well, showing no obvious effects from his major heart surgery shortly after his birth. His robust health is a true testament to the miracles of modern medicine; without that surgery, he would be nothing but a memory by now.

A long ride home from New York City on Sunday was notable for the traffic and the massive lines at rest areas on the New Jersey Turnpike for gas and food. Based on what I saw, we will know pretty soon whether the current levels of immunization indeed have minimized community spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, back at work, things are as busy as ever. We now have less than a year for the submission of our CCSG competitive renewal, and we are busy implementing our strategic plan and preparing our section write-ups for ongoing review. It may be hot and hazy, but there will be no lazy days this summer.

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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May 31 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 440

by at 9:12 pm

Life — almost normal — returning?

As the threat of COVID-19 continues to recede for those of us who are fully vaccinated, this holiday weekend was about as good as it could be in the face of cold, windy, rainy days. We are taking an extra day at the beach, though I’ll be working from there on Tuesday.

I saw a haunting image on the news today, of a woman and her infant, sprawled on a blanket covering the grave of her husband, a casualty of war who almost certainly never lived to meet his baby. It reminded me once again that Memorial Day is not just about beaches and barbecues. People have lost their lives for our freedom and the American way of life, and we would do well to remember this, each in our own ways, and commemorate the sacrifices that have allowed us the privileges of peaceful, safe family gatherings in the midst of plenty.

Stay safe and stay 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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May 24 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 433

by at 7:15 am

I am finishing up a fabulous vacation week, punctuated by only a few work-related responsibilities. I had forgotten what it feels like to be renewed and refreshed. Even as the pandemic wanes (it is by no means over), I am struck by its less obvious and insidious effects, such as the blurring of boundaries between work and life. Maintaining those boundaries has always been a challenge for me. My workday ordinarily ends at about 10 p.m. or so, if not later, but somehow work during the pandemic has taken a fresh toll on me, perhaps because there have been no breaks provided by dinners, trips and conferences. I feel most fortunate to have had important work to do, but taking a bit of time off is really refreshing!

Our family joined us on Friday to celebrate my birthday — all the adults are fully vaccinated, so it felt pretty normal. You may have read that the Delaware beaches are like the Wild West with respect to pandemic precautions, and that is more or less true in Dewey Beach, but we are further south, and when we wander into town about half the adults are still wearing masks outdoors and nearly everyone wears masks indoors, except when they are eating.

Birthdays are like mile markers on the road. Nothing really changes, but they offer opportunities for reflection. All I can say is that I am one very lucky guy. Thank you for being part of the rich tapestry that makes my life so rewarding.

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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May 17 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 426

by at 7:15 am

I am writing this week’s blog early because I am on vacation this week.

Life in the time of coronavirus is drawing to a close. Per CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people need only wear masks under certain circumstances, and life as we used to know it is resuming, albeit with modifications. The CDC’s announcement about masks is general guidance, but each municipality, state and organization, including Georgetown, will determine how best to apply it within their environment.

I look forward to it, as I am sure you do, though I remain curious as to which pandemic adaptations will endure. Outdoor restaurant seating, Zoom and related meeting approaches, new ways of shopping and an appreciation of home all seem to be here to stay in one form or another. How we balance work and home offices will be interesting as well.

Clearly, vaccinations have been decisive, and represent a triumph of science over ignorance, and of facts over spin. Just think of it; we went from lockdown to reopening in only 14 months because we were scientifically prepared by people doing pretty fundamental research, technologically adept and, despite political and cultural resistance on many fronts, capable of mounting a remarkable vaccine rollout in a few short months. When histories of this time are written, this may well be the enduring headline.

If you have not yet been vaccinated, please do so. It may save your life.

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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May 09 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 418

by at 11:20 pm

I can feel life beginning to return to normal. Traffic is becoming bothersome, and people are out and about. I still see lots of masks, so people continue to exercise precautions in our region. That said, restaurants are filling up, people are shopping and there is a hum in the city. We’ve even gone out to restaurants, though only with other vaccinated couples, and we still prefer to sit outside when it is possible. While the analogy to this moment in history is certainly imperfect, I can understand how cities can be bustling under some wartime conditions. Human civilization is remarkably resilient.

Research density on our campus is slowly returning to normal. As we begin to intensify our work on the competitive renewal of our CCSG, I continue to marvel at the resilience of Georgetown Lombardi’s research. Lombardi’s scientists have published — a lot — despite the many very real obstacles to conducting our work. In fact, just yesterday we learned that our work on the use of BXCL701, a broad inhibitor of dipeptidyl peptidases, as a potentiator of PD1 antibody therapy in murine models of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, is potentially acceptable with revisions in the Journal of Immunotherapy of Cancer (JITC). Kudos to Allison Fitzgerald, Shangzi Wang, Zoe Malchiodi and the rest of our lab for getting this work done while adhering to Georgetown’s research density and social distancing requirements. As a side note, JITC was a bit of an also-ran journal for many years until the recent boom of interest in cancer immunotherapy; now it has an impact factor of 10.252, making it a “high impact” paper in the CCSG world. Go figure!

Over the weekend, we set up a new bicycle rack on one of our cars. We are taking bikes to the beach this coming weekend, as I plan to do a lot of training there for the BellRinger. Fundraising for my ride is now up to $19,651, but I have a few tricks left up my sleeve! My team has been formed, and if you don’t have a team and want one to join, please join mine.

Today is Mother’s Day, and Elana and her family are coming over so we can celebrate together. So, you’ll forgive me if this week’s blog is a bit shorter than usual. I have grandchildren to hug.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

PS: I am excited to be able to introduce Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute, as the speaker at Monday’s Dean’s Seminar Series at 3:30 p.m. You can access his talk, titled “The National Cancer Institute: Leading Cancer Research in 2021 and Beyond,” at https://georgetown.zoom.us/j/99000519541. Please make every effort to attend.

 

 


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May 03 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 412

by at 7:15 am

What a beautiful weekend! It was a real BellRinger. At the time of my writing this blog, I don’t know this week’s rider numbers (though I have raised $13,626), but we finished setting up Harriet’s new bike and went out for a short ride on Sunday in the neighborhood. I rode a bike that my son-in-law Ben loaned me as I wait for my new bike to be delivered. Though I raised the seat up, the bike frame is way too small for me, so I rode around looking a bit like a clown in the circus. But, it was a start.

This week I will be forming my team for the BellRinger ride. If you have not formed a team or are looking for one, join me! Lou’s BiKEs Team has a double meaning. A few years ago, Dan Vallera, a colleague from the University of Minnesota, wanted to create a new type of bispecific antibody that targets both cancer cells and human natural killer cells through the activating receptor Fc-gamma R3, also known as CD16. He turned to me because we had developed and clinically tested the very first bispecific antibody targeting both cancer cells and CD16-expressing human natural killer cells. He knew that we also had previously isolated a single-chain Fv antibody fragment that targets CD16, and had used it to create our own bispecific structure known as a trimeric, bispecific antibody that targeted the breast cancer antigen HER2/neu and CD16; we called this structure a TriBi, and had published our results in 2004. Dan and his colleagues used this CD16 construct to create a bispecific killer engager (i.e., a BiKE) and a trispecific variant known as a TRiKE. Both have undergone clinical development. So, I have some experience in exploiting the power of BiKEs to end cancer by engaging the power of the body’s immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. While TRiKEs are promising, they are not fast enough to cover 50 or 100 miles in October.  Lou’s BiKE Team will build on that symbolism one rider and one mile at a time. Join me!

I am increasingly optimistic that we’ll have no pandemic-related limitations by October. In fact, I look forward to the upcoming gradual relaxation of restrictions on our research operations over the next few months. I cannot wait, and will bet that you can’t either. However, please take care to observe all necessary precautions to assure our mutual safety.

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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Apr 26 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 405

by at 7:15 am

I have BellRinger on my mind. I spent about an hour on the bike today, and I am up to more than $12,000 in donations to support my ride. I will be announcing the name of my team within the next week and am open to any naming suggestions! Please sign up to ride, or encourage people you know to do so. Every new rider means more money to support Georgetown Lombardi’s research.

It turned out to be a pretty nice weekend to be outside, and we took advantage of it. Harriet and I took a walk on Saturday afternoon and stopped by a local market to pick up some food for dinner. On the way back, my cell phone rang. It was John Marshall. He said, “We’re outside your house. I know I told you I’d call before I stopped by; is this a good time?” I told John any time was good when it comes to him and his wife, Liza.

I knew he and Liza were stopping by to drop off a copy of their new book, “Off Our Chests,” which — as you may have read in the previous issue of Lombardi this Week — is a memoir of their experience during Liza’s bout of triple-negative breast cancer. Of course, the book is about that and more. I’d like to tell you I have read it and love it, but Harriet won’t let me get to the book, because she is devouring it. It is John and Liza’s story, but it’s also about Georgetown Lombardi. Most of all it exemplifies the values of cura personalis that animate our work. The book goes on sale on May 4, and the advance reviews are glowing.

John and Liza wrote this book during his truncated sabbatical last year; he has returned to his duties with purpose and vigor, leading our clinical operations, aligning these operations with our research mission as a cancer center, and being a splendid colleague, friend, and mentor to our junior faculty, fellows, residents and students. He represents the very best of Georgetown Lombardi, and this book reflects the very best of him, no doubt due to Liza, who is remarkable in her own right. Congratulations to both John and Liza for reminding us of the personal tolls of cancer, cancer care and cancer research. I hope it is a bestseller!

Please remember that this pandemic is not over. Use all appropriate precautions and, above all else, 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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Apr 19 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 398

by at 7:15 am

I hope your weekend was a real BellRinger! We are up to 41 riders as of Friday, and need to pick it up for the ride to achieve its critically important fundraising goals. Donations to support my ride are up to $10,990 as of Sunday evening, as I continue to reach out to colleagues, friends and family. It’s not that hard; please join me! I plan to start a team this week, and will use the surplus, beyond my $2,000 fundraising target, to support those team members who have tried hard but have not been able to achieve their fundraising goals. We picked up Harriet’s bike on Saturday, and I borrowed one of my son-in-law’s bikes so I can ride with her until my own bike comes in next month.

The week was highlighted by Joan Massagué’s spectacular grand rounds on Friday, and by our LCCC Senior Leadership Retreat, where we reviewed programs and aims, discussed collaborative strategies and reviewed the first high-level draft of the cancer center’s strategic plan. It was very invigorating. I was also delighted to select seven proposals (from 27 excellent submissions) for LCCC Shared Resource vouchers to support their research. I think this particular mechanism is here to stay, and you should be alert for future solicitations of proposals.

Meanwhile, the pandemic persists, though we clearly can see light at the end of the tunnel. Senseless mass shootings occur with numbing regularity, as do deeply troubling law enforcement actions that seemingly challenge our basic foundational concepts of justice. Our foreign adversaries pursue mischief, hoping to exploit perceived American vulnerability. Yet, I feel hope for the future. I knew that the American people had elected a good, decent man and expected he would provide a relaxing hiatus after four tumultuous and harrowing years. I was wrong. The president has been forceful, dynamic, humane, direct, ambitious and effective. I expected goodness, but this presidency is addressing many wrongs of the past 50 years, intending to transform this country to more closely match its promise. Hence, my hopefulness.

Please get yourself and your loved ones vaccinated. And, above all, 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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Apr 12 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 391

by at 7:15 am

I bought a new bicycle last weekend. It will be delivered in mid-May (a pandemic phenomenon). Meanwhile, I am trying to do 30-60 minutes daily on my indoor bike, gradually ratcheting up the intensity and length of my training “rides.” The BellRinger ride so far has 43 riders and 13 pelotons, and I hope that many of you will join me as riders. This event can only succeed if we rise collectively to the challenge. Remember, each dollar raised goes to support Georgetown Lombardi’s cancer research mission.

However, I will always remember this past week because of the telephone call we received on Thursday with the sad news that Phyllis Rand had passed away that morning. Phyllis moved to Georgetown from the NCI with Marc Lippman more than 30 years ago and served as the Georgetown Lombardi Director’s executive assistant until she retired in late 2015. She was the true beating heart of this cancer center for more than 25 years.

Phyllis Rand

Phyllis Rand

She was all these things, rolled into one remarkable force of nature: smart, dedicated, loyal, fierce, wise, caring, unsentimental, quick to anger, quicker to forgive, organized (in her distinctive manner), demanding and helpful. She was part drill sergeant, part psychiatrist and full-time guidance counselor. Generations of clinicians, scientists and staff turned to Phyllis for all manner of advice. I was one of them. She taught me how to lead and how to listen. I miss her already.

As the sad news spread, I was bombarded by notes from her legion of friends and admirers — many of whom got to know her during her years as the administrator of the Breast Cancer Think Tank, organized by Marc and Kent Osborne. These world-class scientists and clinicians saw Phyllis for what she was: a peer, with a penetrating intellect and a passion for truth. She was the smartest person in every room. If she knew it, she never let us in on that secret.

I often wondered where, under other circumstances, her formidable intellect and deep insights might have led her. Fortunately for us, they led her here. She fully embraced her job, and in doing so, had a greater impact on our cancer center and the larger world than many with fancy degrees and job titles. Phyllis loved to dance, and was more of a rocker than a swing dancer. But in one very important way, she reminded me of Frank Sinatra. She did it her way. And, we are the better for it. May she rest in peace, and may her memory be a blessing.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

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