National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
March 6, 2012 • Volume 9 / Number 5

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In Memoriam: Dr. Renato Dulbecco

Dr. Renato DulbeccoDr. Renato Dulbecco

Dr. Renato Dulbecco—a Nobel laureate, founding member of the Salk Institute, and influential proponent of the Human Genome Project—died in La Jolla, CA, on February 19.

Dr. Dulbecco shared the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “discoveries concerning the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell.” In the 1950s, he had discovered that when viruses infect cells, genetic material from the virus is incorporated into the cell’s genetic material, which can cause the cell to become malignant. This was the first solid evidence that cancer is caused by mutations, and the finding opened important new avenues in cancer research.

Following his early work in cancer research, Dr. Dulbecco and long-time collaborator Dr. Marguerite Vogt also developed a way to grow animal viruses in culture and a method to measure the concentration of virus in a sample. Called the plaque technique, the method was used in the development of the polio vaccine.

Later in his career, Dr. Dulbecco was the first to use monoclonal antibodies to identify cancer cells by their genetic signature—that is, by the proteins displayed on their surface. Monoclonal antibodies are now used in several cancer treatments.

In 1986, he published an influential perspective piece in Science that urged the sequencing of the human genome. He noted that such an effort “would have to be a national effort. Its significance would be comparable to that of the effort that led to the conquest of space, and it should be carried out with the same spirit.” The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 and completed in 2003. Today, the tumors of many newly diagnosed cancer patients are sequenced to help doctors choose the most effective treatments.

Born and educated in Italy, Dr. Dulbecco earned an M.D. degree from the University of Turin in 1936. During World War II, he served as a medical officer in the Italian army. After being wounded, he was sent home to recuperate but soon joined the anti-German resistance forces in Italy.

After the war, he was invited to work at Indiana University, where he shared a lab with Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix. Dr. Dulbecco’s work at Indiana University caught the eye of Dr. Max Delbrück, who recruited him to the California Institute of Technology in 1949.

In 1963, Dr. Jonas Salk invited Dr. Dulbecco to join the new Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA. Apart from a stint at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London in the 1970s, Dr. Dulbecco spent much of the rest of his career at the Salk, serving as president from 1988 to 1992.

Dr. Dulbecco was awarded the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1964. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei of Italy.

Cyberseminar Will Explore How to Customize Health Materials

Dr. Matthew Kreuter, Gena Hodge, and Angela McFallDr. Matthew Kreuter, Gena Hodge, and Angela McFall

NCI’s March Research-to-Reality (R2R) cyber-seminar will explore how to develop, tailor, and promote health materials for communities and audiences. Make It Your Own (MIYO), created in 2008 by the Health Communication Research Lab at Washington University in St. Louis, is a web-based system that gives community partners the tools to create customized, culturally appropriate health materials targeted to their audiences without having to develop them from scratch.

Dr. Matthew Kreuter, one of MIYO’s developers, will provide an overview of the tool, how it can be used, and the potential benefits for communities and organizations. Gena Hodge and Angela McFall, who implemented MIYO in their colorectal cancer control programs in Iowa and Michigan, will share their experiences with using MIYO, including lessons learned and the potential implications of this resource for other health departments and organizations.

For more information and to register for the March 13 event, visit the R2R website, where you can watch presentations and join discussions. All R2R cyber-seminars are archived on the website approximately 1 week after the presentation.

Public Comment Sought on Genetic Testing for Breast and Ovarian Cancer

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) would like the public’s input and feedback on its draft research plan on genetic risk assessment and BRCA mutation testing for breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility. The draft research plan will be available online for public comment until March 27.

USPSTF researchers will review all of the comments they receive and revise the draft plan. The final research plan will serve as a framework to guide the scope, conduct, and content for an evidence review. The resulting evidence report will form the basis of the final, updated USPSTF recommendation statement on this topic, which will be published in a peer-reviewed journal or posted on the USPSTF website. 

The current recommendation statement was released in September 2005.

National Cancer Advisory Board Holds First Meeting of 2012

The National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) convened its first meeting of the year on February 27–28 in Bethesda, MD. 

NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus, Deputy Director Dr. Doug Lowy, and Deputy Director for Clinical and Translational Research Dr. James Doroshow presented the NCI Director’s Report, highlighting various institute activities, including those in the areas of global health, genomics, and team science.

In addition, Dr. Barbara Rimer, the new chairperson of the President’s Cancer Panel, outlined the panel’s strategy for engaging key elements of the research community in the coming year. She also announced the panel’s first priority of 2012, “Accelerating Progress in Cancer Prevention: The HPV Vaccine Example.”   

Other meeting presentations included an overview of current and future perspectives on cancer prevention research by Dr. Barry Kramer, director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention, and an update on cooperative group reorganization by Dr. Jeff Abrams, associate director of NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program.

The full agenda and a videocast of the meeting are available online.

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