A New Generation of Researchers for a New Kind of Research
Last week, while attending some events on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus, I saw the past, present, and future of cancer research. At the General Motors Cancer Research Annual Scientific Conference, I had the opportunity to hear talks by Nobel laureates and other icons of science about our remarkable progress against breast cancer and where research on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer is headed.
A short while later, I met with 250 National Cancer Institute (NCI) summer interns - some of the best, brightest, and most enthusiastic high school, college, and medical school students in the country. They can be the leaders, I told them, who will take us to an unbelievable destination.
And finally, I spoke at a meeting of leaders from academic medical centers, comprehensive cancer centers, and others who have established exciting programs aimed at turning out a new generation of translational cancer researchers - researchers who have a knowledge and expertise that spans from the bench to the bedside, and even to computational sciences, engineering, and mathematics.
This particular meeting, sponsored by NCI and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), sparked important discussions about the need for and how best to develop a robust cadre of translational researchers. Dr. Philip Pizzo, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, talked about the intriguing approach his institution is taking. Stanford, in fact, has retooled its program, embracing the importance of translational medicine by intertwining clinical medicine and basic science. HHMI's Dr. William Galey told attendees about a new training program called the Interfaces Initiative, a partnership between HHMI and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering that marries biomedical sciences with the physical sciences, as well as the computational, engineering, and mathematical disciplines.
NCI has a firm commitment to translational research. Thanks to the work of the NCI-FDA Task Force, for example, earlier this year the NCI-FDA Research and Regulatory Review Fellowship program was established. This program will train researchers to master the drug development process - from scientific discovery to regulatory review - and shepherd new interventions to market. Other programs, such as the NCI Paul Calabresi Award for Clinical Oncology, are supporting institutions' efforts to build vital new bridges between clinical and basic researchers.
At the recent National Cancer Advisory Board meeting, I announced the formation of the Translational Research Working Group (TRWG). Following the excellent example set by the Clinical Trials Working Group, the TRWG will review NCI's translational research portfolio and provide a blueprint for how best to harness our resources and advance translational research as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Dr. Ernie Hawk, who will chair the TRWG, reminded attendees at the NCI/HHMI meeting of a quote from Louis Pasteur: "There are not two sciences. There is science and the application of science, and these two are linked as the fruit is to the tree."
The way we conduct research is changing rapidly. Delivery, which is the ultimate translation of discoveries made in the lab, is fast becoming an important discovery platform. With that in mind, Pasteur's quote reinforces for all of us that our research is incomplete if we fail to apply what we learn and that, in applying what we learn, we inform discovery anew.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach