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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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 19 2010

Learning more about informatics than I thought possible

by at 7:21 pm

Since this is my first blog of the year, I’d like to wish everybody a happy and healthy new year. I believe this will be a productive and highly successful new year. I hope everybody enjoyed the University-wide break during the week between Christmas and New Year and had a chance to spend the holidays with their families. Harriet and I had the unusual chance to be together with all of our grown children during that week and it was especially sweet. However, my son-in-law developed a brief but serious case of food poisoning that sent me in search of an all night pharmacy. Fortunately, I found one.

Thank you to Drs. Pishvaian, Dawson, Harter, Liu, Isaacs, Kessler, Cocilovo, Liang, Bright-Gbebry, Nancy Morgan and Jennifer Sween for generously giving up time this past weekend to participate in Lombardi’s booth at the NBC4 Health Expo (January 15th & 16th at the Washington Convention Center). As many of you know, Giant Foods invited Lombardi to be a part of their pavilion at the Health Expo, and we are excited by this opportunity to continue to reach out to the community in a number of ways to both do good and do well. Thank you to all of you who stopped by our booth to say hi.

One of the highlights of my week last week was a day-long meeting of a group that focuses on the signaling and bioinformatics of breast cancer. The meeting was organized by Bob Clarke and was held here in the E501 Conference Room and included a number of Lombardi scientists, two researchers from Fox Chase, and a group from the Virginia Tech Virginia Bioinformatics Institute. We identified a number of exciting collaborative directions and I learned more about informatics than I thought was possible.

Finally, I hope everybody will make time on their calendars to attend the first event sponsored by the Ruesch Center. John Marshall has poured his heart and soul into putting together a symposium on February 17th titled, “Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer: Personalized Medicine & the Cure for Cancer.” John has put together a wonderful program which includes a handful of Lombardi scientists and a several high profile speakers from the cancer world. Mace Rothenberg the Senior Vice President of Pfizer Oncology will be giving the Thomas R. Schafer Memorial Lecture on the topic of “From Bench to Bedside to Pfizer.”

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Dec 04 2009

Working with Wellness

by at 3:20 pm

It was nice to be back home and at work this week. I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak at the Wellness Community in Rockville about new treatments for cancer. We had a good turnout and a lively discussion. It is so important to reach out to the community, and I have found that when I do that, the community reaches back. As many of you know, John and Liza Marshall have been very involved in the Wellness Community, which is a really wonderful organization. It was particularly interesting for me because I have given this talk before at the Philadelphia branch. Before I spoke, their director suggested that I use a particular presentation that was considered to be particularly effective. Of course, it was John’s presentation! Knowing that I could never adequately replicate his oratorical brilliance, I used it as a template, modified it to fit my less effective style, and have used it ever since. Thanks, John, for all your help (and let me know if you’d like a copy).

It was fun to attend Kim Lyerly’s Grand Rounds presentation today. Kim is Director of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, and he is a real leader in the field of cancer vaccines. His talk was provocative and actually aligned with my own interests in many ways. After the talk, he, John Marshall, Milt Brown and I exchanged cancer center war stories. It is remarkable how differently Duke handles tenure, compensation issues, and even how their cancer center is organized. Like humans, cancer centers are outbred species. As I once heard someone say, “When you’ve seen one cancer center, you’ve seen one cancer center…”

Have a great weekend.

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Oct 04 2009

Still Recovering… (or, John Marshall is the Fifth Beatle)

by at 4:03 pm

Now that the NCI Site Visit is over, things are beginning to settle down a bit, I had the great fortune to attend a spectacular event this past Tuesday evening in the Riggs Library to honor Jeanne Ruesch and her family for donating $6.75 Million to establish the Otto Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers. The event was attended by many of Georgetown’s leaders, along with some friends of the Ruesch family. One of them, who used to work in E501 for Phyllis, was successfully treated for a seminoma by Nancy Dawson shortly after she arrived here; I am sure Nancy’s ears were burning as a result of the lavish praise that was tossed around about her skills as a physician and as a warm and caring person.

During the meal, I had the privilege of making a few remarks and introducing the star of the evening, John Marshall, who will direct the Ruesch Center. I do not exaggerate when I tell you I truly was the warm-up act for a superstar. John’s powerful and totally captivating presentation mesmerized the gathering; he embodied humanism, clinical virtuosity, soaring ambition, and a profound sense of the value of every single human life. In short, he exemplified cura personalis, and embodied everything that is good about Georgetown, and about Lombardi. I was humbled and honored to share the dais with him. To give you an idea of how he touched all of us, the Georgetown University Executive Committee met on Wednesday and Thursday, and at least four different speakers referred directly to John’s presentation as a prime example of how Georgetown University’s values can translate into action. Of course, both John and I expressed our profound gratitude to the Ruesch family for making John’s vision come to life. The establishment of the Ruesch Center will long be remembered as the critical event in the evolution of our efforts to make a difference in these challenging diseases.

On another note, please check out Lombardi’s presence as a sponsor of WashFM’s breast cancer awareness month activities. I am very pleased to see (hear?) us reaching out into the community in this way.

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Sep 25 2009

It’s finally September 24th

by at 10:58 am

So, we finally had our NCI Site Visit yesterday. And, in my opinion, we were great! The uniform high quality of the presentations was very impressive. Each of our speakers conveyed mastery and personal command of their responsibilities, scientific virtuosity and a keen understanding of their respective roles in the function of the cancer center. Responses to the site visitors’ questions were spot-on. It was clear that our programs were vibrant, organic entities, and not mere administrative artifices. The Shared Resource presentations and tours were splendid. Everybody involved conveyed a sense of shared mission, meaningful community and a clear vision of what Lombardi is, and where it is headed. I have participated in many site visits, and have never been at one where all these elements were so fully and transparently on display. I am especially grateful to our fabulous Associate Directors and Program Leaders, other speakers and Shared Resource Directors whose tireless work was evident in the fine product that we presented. I am convinced that we portrayed ourselves accurately, and in a manner that should lead any reasonable deliberative body to conclude that we are most worthy of continued comprehensive designation for a period of five years. I am so proud of who we are, and what we have accomplished, and I am excited about our future.

I have never been at a site visit that has been better organized, or went so smoothly. Ellen McLaughlin and her team were utterly magnificent. Allison Whitney’s slides were fabulous. It is easy to take such things for granted, but I can assure you that nobody worked harder, including me, than they did to prepare the CCSG application and then assure that the site visit would highlight all the wonderful work that is done at Lombardi. I am immensely grateful for their work, and I know that you share my appreciation.

Our Senior Leadership team really coalesced to support me during these final hectic weeks. Even though Craig Jordan has only been here for a short time, his piercing insights and wise counsel contributed greatly to assure that I struck the right “tone” in my remarks to the reviewers. I am especially grateful to John Marshall for his masterful analysis and integration and compelling presentation of our clinical and clinical research activities. As always, Michael Vander Hoek was always there, working to make sure that all of the many moving parts fit. Moreover, he was the unsung hero of the site visit, responding to a last-minute request by the site reviewers to magically provide a whole new set of numbers for their review. Finally, Peter Shields has been my partner in crime since I arrived, as we prepared for yesterday. I shudder to think of where I would have been, or how we could have acquitted ourselves so well yesterday, without his experience, insights and knowledge of Lombardi.

Poor Phyllis! Can you imagine what she has had to put up with over the past year? At least Mia was there to provide her with consolation…

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Jul 16 2009

Army generals and handprints

by at 12:45 pm

After a week of vacation and our Town Hall Meeting, I’m back to the blog.

As you know, we launched the new Lombardi website on July 1st. You can read about the changes we’ve made on the new Lombardi Magazine website. There are a number of improvements to the new site, but I want you to know that there is still more to come. The next projects under development by Mark Goetz and Allison Whitney are the capability to provide individual faculty with laboratory pages that they can update and an internal website to help Lombardi faculty and staff access the various resources at their disposal. We’d love to hear your comments on the site. Feel free to leave a note here, or email Mark or Allison.

Over the past two weeks we’ve also been in increasingly regular communication with NCI regarding the upcoming site visit. Things are on track as we proceed with our rehearsals for the presentations and the associated preparations. If you happen to run into Ellen McLaughlin or any members of her team please thank them for all that they’re doing in their work for the Cancer Center.

I was excited to meet with a representative from Springer, the publisher, on July 6th about an Encyclopedia of Cancer Therapeutic Targets. John Marshall will be the chief editor of the volume, and other editors include me, Anton Wellstein, our old friend Ed Gelmann, and Howard Kaufman at Mount Sinai Medical School. We’re going to be creating a novel and easy to use compendium of cancer-related molecular targets that can be used for quick reference, but with links to deeper annotation. This is an exciting project and I look forward to being involved in it.

On July 8th, a delegation of Lombardi faculty traveled to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet with John Potter and his colleagues to discuss possible collaborations. We identified a number of areas of potential interest and we will be following up on many of these. In case anybody is ever dismayed by what they perceive to be excessive bureaucracy at Georgetown, we arrived at Walter Reed in 2 vehicles and after going through security (where my poor car was strip-searched) we proceeded to the parking spots which had been assigned to us. When we got there, we found that each of them was occupied by cars that were traveling with a general. Apparently generals get priority treatment in the army. So we circled Walter Reed for a half hour and I ended up doing the next logical thing – I parked in a Colonel’s spot. Despite the late start, the Lombardi delegation was intrigued by the remarkable clinical and laboratory resources available through collaboration with Walter Reed. But the next time I go, I’m either getting a taxi or hitching a ride with a general.

Best of all, yesterday morning I had the great pleasure of receiving a $40,000 check along with Aziza Shad and David Nelson from the Hyundai Hope on Wheels event. This is a terrific partnership between all of the Hyundai dealers in the country. At the event, children from the pediatric heme/onc clinic dipped their hands in paint and put their handprints on a new Santa Fe Hyundai, and the handprinted car tours the thirty different pediatric cancer centers that receive funds from Hope on Wheels. The check to Lombardi will go to fund the pediatric survivorship program run by Aziza.

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Mar 12 2009

Stimulating discussions – and the stimulus package

by at 12:28 pm

It was a great pleasure for me to see Stan Gerson when he came to Lombardi to deliver Grand Rounds last Friday. Not only is he an old friend and study section colleague, but he’s also a valued member of our External Scientific Advisory Committee (ESAC). As a cancer center director, his perspective and insight is very valuable to me as we head into the CCSG renewal. Even though Stan usually slept during sections on tumor immunology, I forgive him his transgressions and found his presentation on Friday to be interesting and provocative. I was, however, disappointed to be one of only a handful of clinicians in the audience. I don’t see how we could have better speakers at Grand Rounds, so hopefully this will change. Everyone is busy, but the opportunity to participate in exciting academic activities is and will remain a core value of this cancer center.

Harriet and I attended the Pediatrics Gala at the Omni Shoreham Saturday night. It reminded me that Jeff Toretsky and Aziza Shad are hosting a very significant symposium on Targeted Therapy for Childhood Cancers that will feature a great lineup of speakers. It will be held on Friday, April 17 in the Research Building Auditorium. Please remember to put it on your calendar and register for the event.

On Monday we had our first full senior operational team meeting where we welcomed John Marshall into the group. The senior operational leadership team now consists of Peter Shields, Michael Vander Hoek, John Marshall, and myself. I think it’s important to include a strong clinical perspective in these weekly operations meetings, and John’s input proved invaluable to the discussions.

I have also had several meetings related to fund raising in the past week. Aside from my routinely scheduled meeting with Joe Teague, I also met with the University Office of Advancement’s “Discovery Intiative” team, which consists of roughly 20 individuals who interface with Georgetown alumni, friends, and supporters. I was able to share our vision for the future and can assure you that vision was enthusiastically received. Since these people engage their constituents looking for opportunities to create relationships that can benefit the cancer center, I came away quite encouraged.

Finally, you have no doubt been bombarded by a variety of messages regarding stimulus package grant opportunities. We are doing our best to coordinate our activities and provide support to facilitate successful applications. The large construction grants will be handled centrally through the University, but many of the other proposals, including grant supplements, should be considered by all of us. If you have not already done so, please let us know your plans for submitting grants using this form.

Have a great week.

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Feb 26 2009

Getting ready for spring

by at 10:54 am

I don’t know about you, but knowing that Spring Training has started gives me some hope that Winter is finally winding down! It will feel good to walk around without needing a coat.

As always, this is a very busy time of the year. Last week, John Marshall and I had a very interesting conference call regarding a new vaccine that could be used in pancreatic cancer patients. This week, Khaled El Shami, Carolyn Hurley, and I are meeting with the NCI bone marrow transplant program people to further develop an exciting allogeneic natural killer cell infusion protocol for refractory myeloid leukemia patients. This collaboration truly represents an integrated clinical and laboratory research initiative with our NCI colleagues.

And, on Wednesday, Anton Wellstein showed me some really interesting data from the new Translational Laboratory headed by Narayan Shivapurkar, who joined us in January from the University of Texas, Southwestern, where he worked with John Minna. This laboratory plans to use multiplexed protein and phosphoprotein detection assays on a novel instrument, the Meso Scale Discovery Platform, and the data thus far indicate that a sensitive and fairly comprehensive analysis of key protein phosphorylation events can be monitored using small tissue samples. This tool should greatly expand our capacity to conduct correlative science in the context of clinical trials; if you have any questions, check with Anton or Narayan. Narayan is also developing microRNA expression assays; the very early returns are encouraging. Once the assays have been successfully developed, they too can serve to extend our clinical trial support repertoire. Needless to say, both the phosphorylation and microRNA technologies will prove to be valuable for all types of science that is done at Lombardi.

I’ve also had some interesting meetings in the last week. For example, I participated in a conference call with our Population Science focused External Scientific Advisory Committee (ESAC) on Monday, and received helpful suggestions and very positive feedback as we head into the homestretch for our CCSG submission. I’ll have more information about this at Wednesday’s Town Hall Meeting.

On that note, have a great rest of the week and please make sure to join us at the Lombardi Town Hall Meeting on Wednesday, March 4th.

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