May 14 2010

At the Avon Walk Finish Line

by at 1:27 pm

Our team at the finish line

Our team at the finish line

This is the last Avon Walk report you’ll hear from me for some time. But I want to share with you the good news that the Lombardi/CBCC team raised nearly $70,000 and was ranked 6th in terms of money raised going into the Walk. The team of walkers was fantastic and the cheering sections in front of the Hospital and by the finish line were potent reminders that Lombardi is a force to be reckoned with in this region when it comes to supporting breast cancer. Congratulations to all of the walkers and to the team’s co-captains, Jeanne Mandelblatt and my wife, Harriet. I want to particularly thank Jeanne for her dynamic leadership of the team. I also want to thank Gina DeLuca for her behind-the-scenes support throughout the planning process and Peter Shields for leadership of the medical team. Due to the unseasonably warm temperatures, there were many dehydrated and cramping walkers, some of whom had to be transported to local hospitals. While I wasn’t able to walk as much with the team, I was gratified that I am still able to recognize dehydration and order fluids.

I can tell you that the team is already planning next year’s walk and I hope my leg has healed a bit before then.

I went to visit Anton Wellstein a couple weeks ago to talk about some work we’re doing with siRNA library screening. We’ve identified new targets for intervention for pancreatic cancer. And as so often happens with Anton, a spirited scientific discussion arose. It turns out that we are using potentially complementary strategies that could readily be imagined in a program project grant application or other collaborative research grant. Our conversation reminded me about the diversity and depth of the research that we do here and the need to maintain open channels of communication to assure that we leverage our excellence wherever possible. For example, I was

Todd Waldmans Cancer Research Cover

Todd Waldman's Cancer Research Cover

talking with Mike Pishvaian on Monday morning about work he’s been doing with cdk4 inhibitors, building on his research showing that cdk4 interacts with smad3 in several cancer models. He remarked on Todd Waldman’s very nice recent paper in Cancer Research that ended up the cover story for that issue. Although Todd employed a glioblastoma model for his research, he used a reagent that Mike had suggested he employ.

Finally, it is with a mixture of regret and happiness that I have to report that Allison Whitney will be leaving us as of July 1. She has foolishly decided that her best future belongs in San Francisco, where she and her boyfriend will be moving to pursue new opportunities. The source of my regret is obvious, but I am happy for Allison that she is following her dreams. In her four years at Lombardi Allison has transformed the Communications Office and has dragged us (not always kicking and screaming) into the 21st century. Her work to create a modern and useful website will serve us well for many years to come. A search for her successor will commence shortly. Please join me in wishing Allison well as she transitions to her new life.

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Apr 28 2010

The Final Stretch

by at 2:24 pm

So, Todd Waldman popped into my office on Monday to show me the April 15 cover of “Cancer Research”, which features a figure from his article, “CDK4/6 Inhibition Arrests the Growth of GBM Intracranial Xenografts.” The in vivo imaging depicted on the cover really highlights the power of such technology, and also serves as a reminder of the potential power of rationally-designed targeted cancer therapies. Congatulations to Todd and his colleagues for this very nice accomplishment!

Of course, I think Todd’s real reason for stopping up was to vent about how the Caps are trying to blow their series against the Canadians, and to see if I had any insights into how the Flyers might fare if they face the Caps in a second round series. I have no insights to offer other than it seems to be helpful to have a very hot goalie on your side in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

We are in the final week of preparations for the Avon Walk, and are in our final fundraising push. Unfortunately, my right knee and leg have blown up a bit (too much training?), and I may need to mix my walking with service in the medical tent. Either way, I’ll be there.

Have a great week.

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Apr 01 2010

Spring in Washington

by at 1:59 pm

I simply cannot believe how beautiful Washington is at this time of year. I feel very lucky to be here to enjoy Spring, and of course to seeing everything “up close and personal” as I train for the Avon Walk. I am delighted to report that I have exceeded my personal fund raising target of $1800, and can now devote my efforts to helping my Lombardi/CBCC teammates achieve their goals. I hope some of you will want to help too. If you click on this link, you’ll be at the team’s homepage, showing who on the team still needs to raise money to meet their fund raising goals. Any help you provide will be greatly appreciated.

It’s been a quiet week for meetings, since Harriet and I scooted up to Philadelphia for our family’s Passover seder on Monday night, and got back into the office on Wednesday. And, of course things are winding down around here with Good Friday and Easter approaching. I took advantage of the time to complete my on-line human subjects certification, which is needed for all investigators who engage in research involving human subjects. I have clinic today, and must note that I am already seeing the impact of the Ruesch Center in my practice. Each of the major GI cancers now has a designated nurse navigator, and groups of clinicians and investigators are beginning to coalesce around these diseases. I was a pretty active clinician when I was at Fox Chase, which had a very active GI cancer program, but I can barely keep up with the new pancreatic cancer patients who are coming in through our active surgery and gastroenterology practices! This volume creates terrific opportunities for translational research focused on pancreatic cancer. And, knowing John Marshall as I do, I am sure that this is just the beginning.

Please accept my warmest wishes for a happy holiday.

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Mar 01 2010

Learning the meaning of petaflops

by at 8:35 am

I began my training this morning for the Avon Walk by taking 1 hour walk before the sun rose. My goal is to put in a minimum of 10 hours per week walking and increasing it as we get closer to the walk on May 1st and 2nd. I was delighted to receive Jeanne Mandelblatt’s email yesterday informing us that the Lombardi team is now up to 23 walkers. This is one more than we had last year and there’s still time for the team to grow. Since we’d like to raise significantly more money than we did last year, I think it would be great to increase the number of walkers to 40 or 50. So there’s still time to sign up!

I had an interesting vist to Oak Ridge National Laboratories on Wednesday. As many of you know, Georgetown University has a memorandum of understanding with ORNL related to systems bio-medicine. Several Lombardi faculty have collaborative research activities with ORNL colleagues funded through this collaboration. I was there this week to discuss opportunities for deepening collaborative ties with ORNL with an emphasis on systems bio-medicine as it relates to cancer in general, and on the G-DOC. It was a busy day of meetings so I didn’t get to do much touring of the facility, which contain some historically significant buildings and pieces of equipment – including one of the first atomic reactors. ORNL is also home to the largest and third largest computers in the world. The largest one, called Jaguar, has 2.3 “petaflops” of processing power, which means it can make 2.3 quadrillion calculations per second. As far as I can tell, it is created by placing 10,000 dual-processor laptops in parallel. To give you an idea of the magnitude of the task, it requires 2 gigawatts of power per year just to keep the machine cool and an additional 7 megawatts per year to supply power to the equipment. They plan to increase the capacity of their computer another hundred- to thousand-fold over the next decade. It it sounds as though they may need a nuclear plant to provide sufficient power for the equipment.

Interesting factoids aside, ORNL possesses exceptional high-performance computing capabilities. It will be interesting and potentially very valuable to identify ways we can collaborate with them to analyze increasingly complex data sets, such as integrated clinical and molecular databases of cancer.

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Feb 19 2010

Walking the Avon Walk

by at 2:11 pm

I was so delighted to be a part of Wednesdays “Fighting a Smarter War on Cancer” Symposium at the Leavey Center. This symposium reflected the challenge of the Ruesch Center to cure, and not just treat gastrointestinal cancers, John Marshall assembled a terrific lineup of speakers who really did a great job of speaking to a diverse audience. Many of these speakers were from Lombardi, and really demonstrated the depth and originality of the work being done here. I must say that I was very proud of our Cancer Center. I also was, as always, captivated by John, who was the sensational emcee’ of the event. Imagine seeing “Donohue” live in the studio (I guess I am dating myself), infused with a passion for a most worthy cause. It was a great day.

When I got done with clinic yesterday, I turned my attention to the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which will be held on May 1st and 2nd. As you know, Lombardi has a growing team of walkers, and I officially joined the team today. I invite everyone who wants to help us support this fabulous event to do so by joining our team. If you can, walk with us. If you can’t walk, cheer for the walkers. And, of course, feel free to support the team with a donation. Together, we can make a difference via our advocacy to have a huge impact on addressing breast cancer health disparities through our Avon Foundation-supported Capital Breast Care Center. We have great ambitions for this year’s walk. I will begin training as soon as the snowpack has receded, and predict that there will be many long walks in my future!

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Jan 21 2010

Fighting breast cancer – in the lab and on the walking trail

by at 6:20 pm

Greetings from the “Breast Cancer Think Tank 20,” which is co-organized by former Lombardi Director Marc Lippman. There are many other former Lombardi people here, including Vered Stearns, Dan Hayes, Jimmy Rae, Shaomeng Wang and Doug Yee. All of them view Lombardi with great affection, and it is good to know that over the years we have generated so many wonderful sparks that have ignited important research at many distinguished institutions. And, we are well-represented at the meeting by an equally distinguished group of current Lombardi faculty, so we must be doing something right. I must say that this is one of the very best meetings I have attended in many years. It has the feeling of a Gordon Conference, but with an amazing amount of world-class give-and-take with every presentation. Naturally, when I spoke I stayed away from the talons of the ER signaling mavens and tried to convince the audience that the answer to breast cancer is in the field of immunology. Perhaps I am a little biased? However, I have come away with a bunch of new ideas for experiments, and that is always a sign of a good meeting.

It’s time for me to sign up for this year’s Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Yes, I am walking this year! I look forward to being a part of the Lombardi team, and hope that this commitment will stimulate an even higher level of support for our efforts to raise money for this wonderful cause. Last year, our Lombardi team raised over $48,000 and our successful fundraising, large team of walkers and supportive cheering section let everyone at the event know that Lombardi is clearly on the move. As you know, our very own Capital Breast Care Center has benefited greatly from Avon’s support and this is a wonderful (if blister-inducing) way for me to do my part for the cause. I think I’ll need some great walking shoes, so if anybody has a favorite brand, please let me know.

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May 08 2009

Getting the Word Out about Lombardi

by at 11:52 am

I had a wonderful wet weekend cheering on the Lombardi team at the Avon Walk. I was proud of our team this year. We had 23 walkers who combined to raise $46,000.  It’s nice to be able to have a bigger impact for such a wonderful cause. Even more importantly the Lombardi cheering section was loud and quite prominent at many of the cheering stations. This was a big change from last year where only one person served as the Lombardi-designated cheerer.

You can bet that many people noticed our presence this year, and many people commented on Lombardi’s walking team, cheerers, and coordination of medical services for the Walk. We received a lovely check from the Avon Foundation at the Walk’s closing ceremony which will support the operation of the Capital Breast Care Center, and the head of the Foundation made special note of Lombardi’s increased presence at the Walk. As I’ve told you before, I want Lombardi to be a presence at important events like this, and this was a good start. But wait till next year!

On a related note, I had the horrifying experience of waking up to the sound of my own voice on the radio on Monday morning. Beth Beck and I were interviewed by local NPR affiliate WAMU about the Avon Walk, and when my alarm went off at 6 AM the next day, this is what I heard.

I attended the NCI Cancer Centers director’s retreat in Pentagon City on Monday evening and Tuesday (where John Niederhuber congratulated me on the successful Avon Walk – he must have heard the WAMU story). It appears as if the cancer centers should not expect a windfall for essential infrastructure from the stimulus package or the growing NIH budget. However it is clear that pay lines will be supported for R01s, with 16% pay lines and the flexibility to reach up to the 25th percentile in some instances. So let’s keep writing those grants.

Yesterday, I spent my day with the Lombardi Celebration Committee describing the work we do. I was inspired by the dedication and added energy of the group coming from new members. This is an important way to get the word out about Lombardi, and I look forward to attending the Celebration on November 7th.

I then drove directly to Capitol Hill to participate in a effort on behalf of cancer centers organized by the AACI and Friends of Cancer Research. I had a chance to meet with Legislative Assistants of several Members of Congress. While one never knows if those activities yield immediate dividends, it was nice that one of the Legislative Asssistants said, “It’s nice to see you again,” which means our message is getting across.

Oh, by the way, we have a core grant due on the 25th. We’re now in the home stretch and the final pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. If you happen to run into Ellen McLaughlin or Stephanie Pomerleau in the hallway, please give them your thanks because they are doing a wonderful job managing the complex task of putting together the grant submission.

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Mar 20 2009

Mentoring our junior faculty

by at 11:05 am

We had Program Leader and Associate Director meetings in the past week. After obsessing for the requisite period of time about the core grant submission, we discussed ways to improve program-based mentoring for junior investigators. The goal of these discussions was to find ways to provide support to junior faculty and ensure all of their research ideas are given the advantage of review with a view to identifying more avenues for collaboration and refinement of research strategies.

While we are still working out the details of how this will be implemented, each set of Program Leaders has been encouraged to incorporate research proposal reviews into their regular program meeting structures. Of course, more senior investigators who are looking either for validation or a reality check will be encouraged to take advantage of this new interactive resource as well. Stay tuned for more on these efforts.

One of the highlights of last week was a visit I paid to the Walter Reed Hospital where I met with Colonel Craig Shriver, Director of the Clinical Breast Care Project. He has organized a remarkably comprehensive breast cancer tumor enterprise. There are many opportunities for potential collaborations and Col. Shriver will be leading a delegation that will visit Lombardi in May. I also had a chance to visit John Potter while at Walter Reed. His office is in the original main building, which has enough photographs and paintings to qualify as a major museum in many cities. It’s quite striking.

On Sunday, Harriet hosted many members of the Lombardi/CBCC Avon Walk team at our house. After they met and strategized about ways to raise more money for the team, I had the wonderful opportunity to clean up while the team went out for a soggy and chilly walk. I think I got the better end of the deal.

Monday morning I visited the CBCC and met with Beth Beck and her crew to learn more about the work they do and their future plans. It is a really wonderful facility and provides such an important service to underserved women in the District and in our region. I was excited to learn that a van will shortly be in operation to pick up patients from the community to be transported to the Center for both mammography and patient education. I’m proud that Lombardi has been the driving force behind this wonderful enterprise.

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