Project Cancer Education: An Introduction to Translational Research at NCI
On July 30, NCI and the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) hosted a pilot program called Project Cancer Education for six Congressional staff members and representatives of cancer research advocacy organizations. The educational program, held on the NIH main campus in Bethesda, MD, was intended to inform attendees about new concepts in cancer research.
After a brief welcome by Susan Erickson, director of NCI’s Office of Government and Congressional Relations, the participants toured the NIH Clinical Center. The tour included a visit to the pediatric unit to get a sense of pediatric patients’ cancer experience and to learn about the work of Dr. Jun Wei, an NCI researcher who studies pediatric neuroblastoma.
In the Clinical Center’s pathology lab, attendees learned about the critical importance of properly storing and handling patient tissue samples for accurate diagnosis and future research use. To give the advocates and Congressional staff a glimpse of the evolving understanding of cancer, each participant received a traditional pathology report similar to those given to newly diagnosed patients, as well as a genotype report that described the actual genetic abnormalities associated with the patient’s tumor. The group then visited Dr. Natasha Caplen’s laboratory to see how genetic information might be used to validate the particular genes that function abnormally in an individual tumor, as well as to learn about Dr. Caplen’s research on gene silencing and observe first-hand the collection and analysis of gene expression array data.
Dr. Ola Landgren talked with attendees about his research on multiple myeloma, including new ways of thinking about precursor diseases to cancer, such as smoldering myeloma. He walked the group through further testing, potential treatments, innovative clinical trials, and the prognosis for a patient with this disease.
Dr. Lee Helman, CCR’s scientific director for clinical research, and Dr. Don Benson, Ohio State University assistant professor and an AACI representative, wrapped up the day’s events with a talk about the importance and power of translational research. Both emphasized the interdependence of research in the lab and in the clinic, and the seamless partnership between NCI and the network of cancer research institutions across the country.