Enabling Technologies Will Help Pave Way to 2015
Since the NCI announced its challenge goal to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer by 2015, I have been asked on numerous occasions, "How are we going to do it?" The answer is as simple as it is complex. The simple answer is that we will harness the tremendous intellectual resources within the cancer community that have been producing the remarkable advances we have made in our understanding of the cancer process, and we will accelerate further progress by integrating a plethora of new enabling technologies.
The complexity of the answer comes in how we orchestrate this process: ensuring that we set up systems and processes which allow us to take full advantage of the tools and resources available to us and that we work together as a community, not in silos that foster redundancy and inefficiency and, as a result, hamper progress. I believe the research community is ready for such coordination, as evidenced by the emergence of team science and the enthusiasm of our cancer center directors for the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, or caBIG.
But an integrated and synchronized research community still will need extraordinary tools. Therefore, we must also develop and apply enabling technologies - technologies that not only give us the ability to do things we couldn't do before but that also allow us to conduct research and discover, develop, and deliver new tests and treatments more swiftly and efficiently.
Gatherings like the AACR annual meeting held this week in Orlando provide an important pathway to foster discovery and to educate the cancer community about important advances, including those that take advantage of new technology. The work presented by Dr. Hisataka Kobayashi, discussed in the lead story for this week's NCI Cancer Bulletin is a perfect example. His work takes advantage of two important technological advances, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nanotechnology, that may allow us to better visualize whether there has been metastasis to the lymph nodes in breast cancer patients.
NCI must lead an effort to develop and embrace the sophisticated technologies that are critical to accelerate our work to reach the 2015 goal. We are committed to working with the entire community in this effort and providing the necessary resources. This commitment is embodied in an important new NCI initiative, the National Advanced Technologies Initiative for Cancer.
This initiative is not about reinventing the wheel. Quite the contrary. It is about a bold vision to coordinate and foster technology-related initiatives and create a coordinated national infrastructure using a "hub" and "nodes" strategy. The hubs will be scientific centers of excellence attached, albeit it virtually, to nodes that are strategically developed to optimize availability and access to key technologies. In recent weeks, readers of the Bulletin have learned more about some of the NCI efforts that will play a role in this new initiative, including caBIG and nanotechnology. There are many others, such as integrative systems biology, advanced imaging technologies, and molecular epidemiology.
When you consider the tremendous potential to accelerate the pace of progress by the integration of these tools and resources into a national, coordinated effort to engineer a biomedical technology initiative, I can't help but be filled with optimism that we can achieve the 2015 goal. It is clear to me: If the NCI does what it is supposed to do as a leader in supporting basic, clinical, and population research, as well as guiding the research enterprise and providing important new enabling technologies, and if all of the dedicated researchers, clinicians, advocates, and others in the community continue to do the excellent work that holds so much promise - and we join together to keep things moving forward - how can we possibly fail?
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach