The Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus: Highlighting Cancer Research
Cancer research is featured prominently in this year’s Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus (CBRC) biweekly briefing series. Each year, the CBRC hosts the series to educate Congressional staff and members of Congress, particularly those who serve on committees with jurisdiction over science and health issues, to build support for basic and clinical biomedical research. In general, the briefing series focuses on health care advances made possible by investments in biomedical research and future advances that could be achieved through additional research.
The CBRC is a bipartisan caucus with members from both the House and the Senate, co-chaired by Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Michael Castle (R-DE), and Jackie Speier (D-CA). Rep. Holt, who earned a Ph.D. in physics from New York University, was a researcher before taking office. “I am proud to be a co-chair of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus, which strives to educate legislators on the importance of adequate biomedical research funding as well as highlight the research results that are generated with that investment,” Rep. Holt said. “Biomedical research plays a critical role in improving the quality of health care in our country and improving our economy. In addition, we need to remember that basic science research leads to the new tools and techniques that make important biomedical research possible.”
Several of the 10 briefings in the 2010 series, including three that have been held already, directly address cancer research:
- A May 26 briefing featured Dr. Mina Bissell of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, with a presentation titled “Cancer Cells and Their Neighborhoods.” She discussed her research on how cancer cells interact with surrounding tissue, focusing on the idea that these cells depend on the cooperation of other cells nearby in order to spread.
- Dr. Daniel Silver of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute presented “PARP Inhibitors: A Breakthrough in Cancer Therapy?” on June 9. In his overview of the successes and inherent challenges of developing PARP inhibitors for use in the treatment of breast cancer, Dr. Silver stressed the importance of translational research—connecting basic science to clinical practice and bringing discoveries to patients. “We are making progress,” he noted. “It’s incremental, but it’s steady.”
- On June 23, Dr. John Coffin of Tufts University presented “Viruses in our Genomes: Unending Surprises,” highlighting several proviruses and their roles in human and animal cancer. Dr. Coffin, who is also director of NCI’s HIV Drug Resistance Program, described how NIH research over the past few decades has led to the basic groundwork for understanding cancer causation. “Without the research on retroviruses supported by NIH,” he said, “I can’t imagine where we would be in the field right now.”
The briefings are organized by the Coalition for the Life Sciences, an alliance of nonprofit professional organizations that serve as the Advisory Committee to the CBRC. (NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus is a former scientific advisor to the CBRC.) The briefings do not pose a specific call to action, but instead provide a forum for the audience and presenters to discuss key questions. An emerging theme common to these cancer-focused briefings was the complexity of cancer research. Dr. Bissell offered her view of this challenge, saying: “The problem of cancer is a problem of evolutionary biology and is a problem of developmental biology. There’s not a single answer to these things.”
Four briefings are scheduled for the remainder of the 2010 series, including one on July 21 that will feature Dr. Ann Partridge of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Partridge will speak about mammography and the evolution of breast cancer screening guidelines, as well as the most recent updated guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.