National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
April 5, 2011 • Volume 8 / Number 7

Legislative Update

Congressional Staffers and Advocates Take Part in Project Cancer Education

Participants in Project Cancer Education tour the NIH Clinical Center on March 18. Participants in Project Cancer Education tour the NIH Clinical Center on March 18. (Photograph by Daniel Sone, NCI)

On March 18, NCI hosted six congressional staffers and two cancer research advocates for Project Cancer Education (PCE), an interactive learning experience featuring NCI’s intramural prostate cancer research program as a case study to demonstrate how scientific discoveries are translated into tangible benefits for patients. The program included researchers from NCI’s Center for Cancer Research (CCR), whose aim was to open a window for PCE participants into a dynamic collaboration among members of a multidisciplinary research team.

The hosts of the event—Dr. William Dahut, clinical director of CCR, and Dr. Marston Linehan, chief of CCR’s Urologic Oncology Branch (UOB)—described the patient-focused nature of translational research for the staffers. “Patients want two things,” Dr. Dahut explained. “They want to get better, but they also want to help others.” The translational research process continuously shifts between the laboratory and the clinic to refine and improve new therapeutic strategies as they progress toward becoming proven cancer care options for patients in the community, he noted. Patient participation in clinical trials is an essential part of that effort.

Drs. Dahut and Linehan accompanied the PCE participants on a visit to the Molecular Imaging Clinic, where Dr. Peter Choyke, director of CCR’s Molecular Imaging Program, and his team showed the group how sophisticated molecular imaging technologies are being used to pinpoint suspicious tissues in the prostate for precision biopsy and treatment monitoring.

This new kind of imaging can help guide surgeons to exact locations of cancerous tissues during minimally invasive robotic prostatectomy and may allow surgeons to conserve unaffected areas of the prostate, explained Drs. Peter Pinto and Gennady Bratslavsky, senior surgeons in the UOB, who perform and teach this procedure.

Laura Bunten of Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-TX) staff practices using the da Vinci surgical robot. Laura Bunten of Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R-TX) staff practices using the da Vinci surgical robot.

Drs. Pinto and Bratslavsky welcomed the group to the Robotic Surgery Suite and provided each of the guests an opportunity to practice using the da Vinci machine in a robotic surgery training exercise. They described how the use of robotic surgical procedures may preserve function and increase the quality of life for prostate cancer survivors. In addition, Drs. Dahut and Linehan stressed that training future cancer researchers and clinicians is an important role for CCR. PCE presenters Drs. James L. Gulley and Jeanny Aragon-Ching trained at NCI in CCR’s Medical Oncology Fellowship Program. Dr. Gulley is now director of the Clinical Trials Group in CCR’s Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology. He detailed his research in developing highly effective and minimally toxic cancer vaccines, including a new experimental vaccine that targets prostate cancer.

Dr. Aragon-Ching, now assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology at George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates, told the group how her training at NCI has shaped her work as a researcher, instructor, and mentor to medical students and her care of patients every day in her clinical practice. “This is a journey,” concluded Dr. Aragon-Ching. “We are here to help patients. This is why we are all here.”

A few of CCR’s patients offered their own perspectives via video to complement the presentations in molecular imaging and vaccine therapy. Their stories highlighted the program’s central theme that the ultimate goal of translational cancer research is to bring the benefits of laboratory discovery to cancer patients. Matt Fery, a member of Rep. Brian Higgins’ (D-NY) staff, thanked all of the PCE presenters for the illuminating program. “On the Hill, we get caught up in the macro systems so much that we can forget that the research done here matters to people,” he said.