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Apr 05 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 384

by at 7:15 am

Noriko Steiner holds a vase of flowers

Noriko on the 20th anniversary of her joining Carolyn Hurley’s lab at Georgetown Lombardi

I hope you have enjoyed the mini-holiday. I don’t have too much new to report this week, other than to remember the life of one of our own former colleagues. Carolyn Hurley shared the sad news that Noriko Steiner, a member of the Georgetown Lombardi family for over 35 years, passed away on March 28, 2021, of cancer.

Noriko joined Carolyn’s laboratory in 1985 and was known to many in Lombardi for her friendly smile, good-hearted nature, and amazing grasp of almost any laboratory technique. Condolences can be sent to her husband, John Steiner, and son, Nick, at 3006 Dennis Avenue, Kensington, MD 20895.

May she rest in peace, and may her memory be a blessing.

Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Mar 28 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 376

by at 10:14 pm

I write this week’s blog on Sunday night. We celebrated the first night of Passover on Saturday evening. Our vaccinated gathering felt almost normal, though our unvaccinated family members took a pass out of an abundance of appropriate caution.

Speaking of celebrations, Georgetown Lombardi is very fortunate to be able to recognize two of our remarkable colleagues: Jeanne Mandelblatt and Lucile Adams-Campbell.

Jeanne was announced as the 2020 recipient of the prestigious Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Society of Preventive Oncology (ASPO), but was not able to receive the award last year due to COVID restrictions. This wonderful recognition will be celebrated later today at the ASPO meeting. Please join me in offering Jeanne warm congratulations!

Just in case you had any doubts about the wonderful work done in our CPC program, I am delighted to recognize the 2021 recipient of the Fraumeni Award — none other than our own Lucile Adams-Campbell. Back-to-back awardees from the same cancer center. How about that? Way to go, Lucile! You can read about both of these accomplishments in this issue of Lombardi This Week.

Were that not enough, I am pleased to share with you that Lucile has just been named a Fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). This is an honor reserved for the real stars of our field. I am so happy for Lucile, and am deeply appreciative that she has chosen to do her remarkable work here at Georgetown Lombardi. I feel honored to work with both Jeanne and Lucile; they exemplify the best of Georgetown.

On a related note, I want to brag a bit that our longtime friend and supporter, Carolyn “Bo” Aldigé, is receiving the Joseph Cullen Award from ASPO this year. As founder and driving force of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, her work continually shines a light on the critically important need to focus on cancer prevention. She is an effective, tireless and graceful ambassador for the foundation, which has supported numerous Georgetown Lombardi investigators over the years. Thank you, Bo, and congratulations!

So, my BellRinger profile is up and “riding,” and donations are starting to trickle in. It looks like I have to start training pretty hard to get in my 100 miles. I am looking forward to the challenge, and hope that each of us finds a way to help make the BellRinger a huge success.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Mar 22 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 370

by at 7:15 am

Life after the time of coronavirus has begun for millions of Americans. I do think there is still another surge on the way, but with luck (and warm weather), perhaps the impact won’t be as severe as it has been in Europe. As life gradually resumes its familiar, normal patterns, I expect that work will slowly begin to involve more personal contact.

However, I hope we don’t get rid of Zoom meetings entirely. I think that many such meetings, especially seminars and research meetings, have enjoyed broader participation and engagement than they had prior to the pandemic. The trick will be to figure out how to best blend remote and in-person meetings.

I have gotten used to working from home, and suspect many of you have too. I imagine that the post-pandemic future will, in many types of businesses and universities, include work-from-home days and remote working for many people.

Science and medicine still require a lot of us to do our work at work, of course. I suspect that many of us will be back on campus this summer, and I look forward to seeing my colleagues in three dimensions once again. I spent the last week seeing them in two dimensions for 10 hours each day! I was so busy I did not have a chance to attend the grand rounds presentation by our new recruit, Sree Nair. Plus, the current workweek started on Sunday evening with a meeting with our other new recruits, who start in June. More on that later.

You might have noted that I did not open this blog with any news about my family. That’s because there isn’t any news to report, thankfully. All is quiet on the home front. Plus, the weather is wonderful, we went to a restaurant for dinner on Saturday evening (we sat outside), and I even hit a few golf balls at the driving range on Sunday. So normal.

’Bout time.

Enjoy it all, but stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Mar 15 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 363

by at 7:15 am

One year. 365 days. 525,600 minutes (my nod to a much better writer who focused on life in the midst of a different epidemic*). More than one American death per minute since the shutdown. So much loss — of life, property, prosperity, purpose. So many lives placed on hold. As if that was not enough, we were visited by four additional horsemen of this modern, dystopian apocalypse: fear, misinformation, discord and insurrection. Still, we dream of better days to come.

Harriet and I returned from New York City on Saturday. Our new grandson came home on Wednesday, only eight days following major cardiac surgery. Aside from his healing surgical scars, he seems to be thoroughly normal. He gives us hope for a future.

New York is beginning to awaken from its yearlong unnatural hibernation. There is traffic, and it is noisy. The sidewalks are beginning to bustle. The outdoor seating areas for restaurants are getting crowded. There is still a way to go, but the signs of rejuvenation are everywhere. Today, we took a walk down to Georgetown, and the streets were more crowded than the ones on the East Side of Manhattan. We passed at least 10 new eating spots and other new stores. The comeback is starting. The pundits and some elected officials certainly think it is time. Yet, only about 10% of Americans are fully vaccinated. So, if you are not yet vaccinated, please think twice before dining indoors or partaking in activities that give the virus an unobstructed shot at you. This is not over. There could still be another horrible wave born of hubris. Please don’t let down your guard.

Our work continues. We have much to celebrate — new grants, recruitments, reshaping our clinical research enterprise, and strengthening our Consortium, among others. All of this has happened despite withering fiscal constraints that have affected all universities and health systems. Adversity has brought out the best in all of us.

Vaccines are coming. By the summer, everyone who wants a vaccine should be able to be immunized. What a miracle. From unknown killer to effective prevention in only one year. Future medical historians should marvel at what was accomplished, and how this marked the moment when the arc of discovery to translation for the benefit of society was truly accelerated as a lesson for future generations.

I truly hope that the decision to fully reopen society will not depend upon convincing vaccine contrarians to be immunized. Once everyone who wants a vaccine has been immunized, let’s then find out what this inevitably altered future has in store for us!

We owe a great future to honor the memory of those whose lives have been lost, and to provide a path for those whose lives have just begun.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

* Jonathan Larson, Rent

 


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Mar 08 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 356

by at 7:30 am

I write this blog from an apartment in New York, where Harriet and I are spending a week to help our youngest son and his wife as they prepare to welcome their new baby home. Clark underwent successful surgery for coarctation of the aorta last Tuesday and is improving by leaps and bounds. Assuming no setbacks, he should be able to go home only a week following this major surgery. We dare to be hopeful.

Work has continued to be busy, and I have increasing bandwidth to attend to many important issues related to our budget, recruiting, space, clinical research operations and my laboratory. One of my pandemic grants, an R21 focused on NK cells and cancer associated fibroblasts in pancreatic cancer, got a strong score, though I will have to resubmit. A bunch of other grant proposals are in the hopper.

On top of all that, our new clinical electronic medical record, MedConnect, went “live” on Monday. My training was abbreviated by our family issues, so when I saw patients on Thursday I was functionally helpless. I got remarkable help from the IT support people in clinic, to the point where I can now order chemotherapy and complete clinic notes.

I find it remarkable that next week will mark one year of pandemic-induced restrictions. Historians will long consider this time. I will bet that one emphasis will be the remarkable resilience of our society as we coped with the existential and practical challenges of this era. As we move toward a time when we enter a period of pseudonormality, we should prepare for new ways of working and interacting. It will be very interesting.

Speaking of pseudonormality, we are eagerly preparing for our inaugural bicycle fundraiser, the BellRinger, in October 2021. This is shaping up to be a major initiative for the Georgetown community, with the sole goal of supporting Lombardi research. I already registered at bellringer.org, and encourage everyone to get involved as a rider, a volunteer (sign up information coming soon) or a supporter. This is a great opportunity to raise money to support our cancer research mission, now and for years to come. Let’s make it happen!

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Feb 28 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 348

by at 11:00 pm

In many ways, we all spend our lives engaged in a battle with death, poised on a precipice. Beyond the usual struggles associated with existence, I chose to dedicate my life to battle death quite directly as a physician, oncologist and cancer researcher. It is a good fight. Even though none of us can ever win the ultimate war, we have certainly won many battles with cancer. That gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction. I am beginning to believe that the coronavirus is finally on the run, too. Yet another battle is being won, even as new ones emerge.

It’s been a tough week. Here I am today, unsteadily poised on a precipice in a different sort of battle. On the one hand, I am reflecting on a week of loss. My father’s funeral was on Monday, and in response to pandemic precautions, only a handful of mourners physically attended the funeral, which was also live streamed. I had the terrible privilege of delivering a eulogy, and we then decamped to the cemetery, in a cold driving rainstorm, for a brief graveside service. It was sad and moving. Harriet and I then immediately hurried up to New York City and set up a Zoom memorial gathering to honor my father’s memory. The gathering was very cathartic, sweet and moving. As I have written before, I will miss my father enormously, but will never feel cheated.

Pivoting to the other view of the precipice, we had decamped to New York to drive our daughter-in-law and son to the hospital to induce her labor. Our new grandson was born on Tuesday, robust and seemingly healthy, though with a life-threatening coarctation of the aorta that will require major surgery this coming Tuesday. Talk about emotional whiplash! I had to choose between grief, worry and joy, all within 24 hours. I chose joy, and I still do. To be sure, mourning and anxiety are unavoidable, but a new life has been brought into the world. And, as I reflect back on the life of Samuel Weiner, I cannot help but smile with gratitude, especially when I think about the bright future of his great-grandson. Clark Samuel Weiner carries my dad’s name, genes and legacy into the future, strong and able to overcome each and every challenge life will bring.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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Feb 20 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 340

by at 12:00 pm

My father passed away peacefully early in the morning on Saturday, ending a long struggle. The miracles of modern medicine extended his life by at least five years, and until the last year, he enjoyed every moment of the added time. Our family is pleased he is at peace. We will miss him terribly; however, we certainly do not feel cheated. He was a seemingly effortless family patriarch — the DiMaggio of the genre. Speaking of baseball, his favorite joke was about two older gentlemen who loved baseball. They often wondered if there was baseball in heaven. They made a pact that if one of them died, he would come back to tell the other one the answer to the question. So, Joe dies, and sure enough, he comes back to tell Benny, “I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that there IS baseball in heaven. The bad news is that you’re pitching on Sunday.” I hope my dad throws a no-hitter when it’s his turn to pitch.

At the other extreme of the life cycle, we are about to welcome a new grandchild, a little boy, in New York City. However, he has a coarctation of the aorta that will require major surgery shortly after his birth. We are grateful for the love of our family and the support of so many friends and colleagues that help us get through this trying time.

Our circle of life has been snipped, both at its origin and its termination. But, just as our bodies repair DNA breaks, we will repair this damage and emerge intact, armed with loving memories on the one hand and, with just a bit of good fortune, the joy of watching another grandchild navigate a happy childhood and bright future. It’s a tough moment, but we’ll get through it. However, we are going to be splitting time between Yardley and Manhattan for the next week or two. I will try to keep up with work as best as I can.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou


 

In Memoriam

Samuel Henry Weiner

Samuel Henry Weiner of Yardley, PA, died on February 20, 2021, at the age of 94 years, at his home, from complications of myelofibrosis, a type of blood cancer. Born in Philadelphia, PA, he graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1944, despite being a terrible student. Samuel WeinerHe then enlisted in the Army and served in the Pacific Theater in World War II, where he spent time as a Prisoner of War and earned a Bronze Star. After his discharge in 1946, he attended Penn State University with assistance from the GI Bill, graduating in 1950 with a B.S. in Physics. He then worked at ITE Circuit Breaker in Philadelphia, while completing requirements and earning a M.S. in Physics from Penn State. He was discovered to have a talent for writing patents and was hired by a New York based patent law firm, now known as Ostrolenk Faber LLP. He earned a J.D. from Temple University Law School in 1961, and stayed at Ostrolenk through his retirement as the firm’s Senior Partner at the age of 84. During his remarkable 60-year career he wrote and litigated patents for solar batteries, rectifiers, microchips, light dimmers and MRI medical technology that revolutionized modern life. He enjoyed travel, great food, reading, the Saturday New York Times Crossword puzzle, opera, sports, a good joke, a cold glass of gin and lousy cigars. Most of all, he cherished his family. He was predeceased by his beloved wife Bella (1929-1992), and is survived by his loving partner Alina Groblicka, sons Louis (Harriet) and Stephen (Ryta) Weiner, grandchildren Kenneth Weiner (Sarah), Elana Fertig (Benjamin), Marla Mindelle, Lisa Westermark (Kai), David Weiner (Kelly), Olivia Weiner and seven great-grandchildren. Even in death he remains his family’s North Star, guiding us to our better selves. To celebrate his extraordinary life, please direct contributions to Fox Chase Cancer Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum or the charity of your choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Feb 15 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 335

by at 7:30 am

I hope you had a good weekend. Harriet and I visited my father, who continues to fail; I of all people should understand, but it is so hard to watch the disintegration of someone you love as he nears the end of his life. So, it was not an easy time, but it was good and important. Also, it was reasonably safe, since both Harriet and I are fully vaccinated. We continued to take precautions with respect to masks and social distancing during our visit, but at this point the value of being with him — both for him and for us — far outweighed the risks.

We spent a lot of time in the car, listening to the impeachment drama, incredulous that a lawyer, a proud Philadelphian defending the former President, uttered the magic phrase, “Jiminy Crickets!” I guess the phrase, which was a thing back in the early 20th century, was uttered by some Philadelphians many years ago. But I never heard it used outside a movie theater at any time in my childhood, let alone when I lived in the area as an adult. Where he came up with that expression, I’ll never know. We are not like that, or like him.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, government is beginning to work for the common good. It now appears that there will be enough coronavirus vaccine to immunize most Americans by early summer, with improved distribution networks. All good, as long as enough people are willing to be vaccinated. And, last week we learned that the NCI intends to increase the R01 funding payline to the 15th percentile by 2025. Jiminy Crickets!

Finally, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a recent contribution to Georgetown Lombardi. In spite of not being able to gather because of the pandemic, the Walking Warriors Battling Breast Cancer continued their crusade to help Washington, DC’s most vulnerable women gain access to screening and treatment by raising an incredible $30,000 in 2020. Thank you to all our Walking Warriors for your continued support.

Have a great week. Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Feb 08 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 328 – Super Bowl Edition

by at 7:15 am

Super Bowl Sunday. Or is it Blendsday? In retrospect, this is the second Super Bowl of the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed its first American life on February 6, 2020. We just didn’t know it back then. Here we are, a year later, a seeming lifetime ago, awakening from a nightmare, feeling somber but hopeful. Cases are down, but are still way too high. More Americans were vaccinated last week than were newly infected. Yet, only about 10% have been vaccinated.

For those of us who have been vaccinated, life can begin to assume “normalish” dimensions, though restaurants, trips and crowds should remain on the laughably distant horizon. Then there are the four groups of unvaccinated people — 1) the “gotta have its,” 2) the “never gonna get its,” 3) the “don’t care if I get its,” and 4) the “don’t care if you get its.” A significant plurality of Americans fit into group 1, but groups 2 and 3 represent a significant chunk of our society. I am not sure if we can do much to convince those people of the urgent need to protect themselves and their neighbors because of either their deeply held beliefs that admit no reasonable, fact-based discourse or their terminal alienation. We must continue to try, but I am not optimistic that we can change hearts and minds quickly enough to influence their risks. Group 1 will take care of its needs as supplies and supply chains are improved. Group 4 — the historically underserved communities, who are entitled to all health protections that have been too long denied to them — deserve special focus and efforts. If you missed it, I commend to you the powerful op-ed written by 50 members of the National Academy of Medicine — including our Lucile Adams-Campbell — in the Sunday New York Times, expressing the need to use this moment to change a shameful legacy of our country’s history. How meaningful it would be to more closely approach herd immunity by doing the right thing, in the process allowing our communal life to resume some semblance of normality.

I hope I am wrong, but at this point I will be surprised if we can get above the 50% vaccination threshold. This will be the lasting, most toxic legacy of the past four years. Immunizing 165 million Americans would be a wonderful accomplishment, but will leave us far short of even the most optimistic definitions of minimum herd immunity thresholds. Accordingly, I fear that the COVID pandemic will not end with a bang, nor with a whimper. Rather, it will continue to simmer on the back burner, churning out mutant variants with glee as it feasts on the naive respiratory tracts of millions upon millions of unprotected victims in waiting. Eventually, it will fade away, but not for a few years.

Under those conditions, it’s hard to imagine a return to that idyllic time when stadiums were filled, and home Super Bowl parties burst with maskless friends and family sharing from a pot of chili, screaming their lungs out, united in their hatred (and barely disguised envy) of Tom Brady. However, I can see this happening by 2025 or so. And damn it, Brady will still be the starting quarterback in that Super Bowl, even though he’ll be 47 years old!

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 


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Feb 01 2021

Life in the Time of Corona(virus) – Day 321

by at 7:15 am

I hope you all are weathering the storm.

The third wave of COVID-19 has crested, and as it recedes, its toxic wake likely will reveal another 100,000 deaths in the United States in the next month or so. War is hell. At least we are now on the offensive. Not yet D-Day, but perhaps victory in the Battle of Britain. When the fourth wave comes, as it will, its magnitude and impact will be blunted, at least to some degree, by improving weather and more vaccinations — not enough yet to protect all of us, but perhaps enough to keep health care operational. The enemy is clever, counterpunching with new variants, but we will prevail.

Meanwhile, normal-ish life continues in this year of coronavirus. This past Thursday marked the PhD thesis defense of Allison Fitzgerald, who gave a remarkable presentation. I have been privileged to be her mentor. Zoomed in to about 150 attendees, Allison was deprived of the sweet terror of an in-person presentation and defense, and then the party that would have followed. No matter; she has made her mark. Her work took our lab in exciting new directions, and will resonate for years. Congratulations, Allison!

This wonderful event reinforced something important for me. When I moved to Georgetown I looked forward to many new challenges and adventures, and I have not been disappointed. However, I worried a lot that it would inevitably mark the beginning of the end of my research career, as I grappled with various leadership challenges. Happily, the transition turned out to be the end of the beginning. I had not considered the power of graduate students in our Tumor Biology T32 program.

Since Fox Chase Cancer Center did not have a doctoral track in its T32 training program, I did not know what to expect when I moved here. I have now mentored nine TBio MD/PhD and PhD thesis candidates since 2008, and each of them has kept me on my scientific toes; as a result, we continue to contribute to the field. I like to think I helped them achieve their goals, but the truth is that I owe them a debt of extreme gratitude. Hopefully, our contributions to knowledge will, in the end, be helpful in the war on cancer. This is one instance where there is joy in the battle.

This synergy of science and education did not happen by accident. The superb leadership of so many, led by Anna Riegel, Mike Johnson and Becca Riggins, has kept our training environment vibrant, and positioned for success in the years to come. All of us who teach, mentor, organize and support our students contribute to our communal success!

Speaking of staying on our toes, please be careful out there. The University imposed new restrictions for good reasons; this remains a dangerous moment.

Stay safe and be well.

Lou

 

 


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