National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
December 13, 2011 • Volume 8 / Number 24

Notes

In Memoriam: Lloyd Old, Cancer Immunology Pioneer

Dr. Lloyd Old (Photo courtesy of Cancer Research Institute) Dr. Lloyd Old (Photo courtesy of Cancer Research Institute)

Dr. Lloyd Old, a pioneer in cancer immunology, died November 28 of prostate cancer at the age of 78. Over the course of his career, Dr. Old made several groundbreaking discoveries that led to a deeper understanding of how the body's own immune system can be used to kill cancer cells.

When Dr. Old started his research in the 1950s, cancer immunotherapy was in its infancy. In large part due to his perseverance, the field is now considered one of the most promising areas for cancer research. Last spring, the Food and Drug Administration approved two immunotherapies for cancer—sipuleucel-T (Provenge) for some prostate cancers and ipilimumab (Yervoy) for metastatic melanoma. These drugs might not have been developed without the discoveries Dr. Old made decades ago.

Dr. Old is perhaps best known for the 1975 discovery with Elizabeth Carswell of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a protein that can boost the immune response and can also cause some types of tumor cells to die.

Dr. Old also played an important role in several other discoveries. In 1979, he was one of several researchers to identify protein 53 (p53). The gene for p53 is a tumor suppressor that is mutated in roughly half of all cancers. In addition, in 1959 Dr. Old and Dr. Baruj Benacerraf showed that bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a tuberculosis vaccine, could provide some protection against tumors in mouse models. Since the 1990s, the vaccine has been used as a first-line treatment for superficial bladder cancer.

Dr. Old spent his career at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and the Cancer Research Institute. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978 and served on several scientific advisory boards and committees, including ones at NCI.

Barbara Rimer and Owen Witte to Join the President's Cancer Panel

Drs. Barbara Rimer and Owen Witte Drs. Barbara Rimer and
Owen Witte

On November 29, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint Dr. Barbara K. Rimer and Dr. Owen N. Witte to the President's Cancer Panel. Dr. Rimer would chair the three-person advisory committee, which monitors the development and execution of activities of the National Cancer Program. Each year, the panel holds a series of meetings and writes a report to the president on a topic of concern in the cancer community. Panel members serve 3-year terms, and the appointment of the third member is pending.

Dr. Rimer is dean of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she has been a faculty member and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center since 2003. From 1994 to 1997 she was the first woman to chair NCI's National Cancer Advisory Board, and from 1997 to 2002 she served as director of NCI's Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. Dr. Rimer received the NIH Director's Award and the American Cancer Society's Distinguished Service Award and was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 2008. She received a B.A. and M.P.H. from the University of Michigan and a Dr.PH. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Dr. Witte is director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). From 2005 to 2007, he served as the founding director of UCLA's Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Medicine. Dr. Witte first joined the UCLA faculty in 1980 and has been an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1986. He has served on a number of boards, including the board of the American Association for Cancer Research. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine. He holds a B.S. from Cornell University and an M.D. from Stanford University School of Medicine.

National Cancer Advisory Board Holds Final Meeting of 2011

The National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) held its last meeting of 2011 in Bethesda, MD, on December 5–6. 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.

Dr. Barbara Wold gave an overview of the Center for Cancer Genomics, and Dr. Barry Kramer discussed the recent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation on PSA testing.

In addition, researchers from NCI's Center for Cancer Research gave presentations on the origins of the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and new approaches for intramural-extramural collaborations.

Other presentations were delivered by researchers from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics who spoke about the risks of bladder cancer related to smoking, findings from the NCI Costa Rica HPV-16/18 vaccine trial, the aging genome and its relationship to cancer, and adverse health outcomes in women exposed in utero to diethylstilbestrol.

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

Toby Hecht Appointed Associate Director of Translational Research Program

Dr. Toby Hecht Dr. Toby Hecht

Dr. Toby T. Hecht was recently appointed associate director of the Translational Research Program in the NCI Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis (DCTD), after serving as acting associate director for the past 4 years. 

The Translational Research Program oversees the Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs)—P50 grants that emphasize a team science approach to organ-site translational cancer research. During more than 25 years at NCI, Dr. Hecht has managed programmatic activities and developed biological agents, taking them from the lab bench to the clinic. Her research background is in immunology and immunotherapy

NCI Launches Text Message Service to Help Teens Quit Smoking

Cell phone

A new initiative to help teens quit smoking will employ something that many young people use every day—the mobile phone. SmokefreeTXT is a free text-message service that provides encouragement, advice, and tips to teens trying to quit smoking.

Once they sign up, teens will receive text messages timed according to their selected smoking quit date. Following their quit date, they will continue receiving texts for up to 6 weeks. This is a critical piece of the SmokefreeTXT service, since research shows that support is important beyond the first few weeks of quitting. Teens can sign up online or text QUIT to iQUIT (47848).

Nearly 20 percent of teens smoke, and most will continue smoking into adulthood unless efforts are made to help them quit. By connecting with teen smokers on their mobile phones, NCI hopes to help young people quit with proven tools and strategies.

"With 75 percent of youths between the ages of 12 and 17 owning a cell phone, there is immense potential for mobile technologies to affect health awareness and behavior change among teens," said Dr. Erik Augustson, a behavioral scientist in NCI's Tobacco Control Research Branch.

SmokefreeTXT, a key component of the Department of Health and Human Services' efforts to develop mobile health programs, is one of the core features of the new Smokefree Teen initiative, an extension of NCI's smoking cessation website, smokefree.gov.

Smokefree Teen, a site specifically developed to help teen smokers quit, also offers several social media pages to connect teens with cessation tools. In January 2012, Smokefree Teen will launch a free smartphone application, QuitSTART—an interactive quit guide for teens that delivers cessation and mood management tips, tracks cravings, and monitors quit attempts.

Radiation Epidemiology and Dosimetry Course Available Online

The 2011 Radiation Epidemiology and Dosimetry course, presented by NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, is now available online. The course is intended for people with a background in epidemiology who are interested in learning about the health effects of radiation exposure, particularly the relationship between ionizing radiation and cancer.

The course consists of video presentations on radiation chemistry and biology, DNA damage and susceptibility to radiation, studies of irradiated populations, nuclear incidents and accidents, studies in medically irradiated populations, and nonionizing radiation. Handouts are also available and may be downloaded.

Funding Available to Support Collaborations between U.S. and Chinese Scientists

NIH and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) recently published corresponding funding announcements to encourage and support research cooperation between U.S. and Chinese scientists studying cancer, mental health, allergy, immunology, and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and its comorbidities. NIH released an announcement for administrative supplements for U.S. investigators, and NSFC published an announcement for new 1-year projects from Chinese collaborating investigators. This initiative is part of a U.S.–China Program for Biomedical Research Cooperation that was established by NIH and NSFC in 2010.

U.S. and Chinese investigators will work together to develop corresponding applications to NIH and NSFC. Applications will be reviewed in parallel by both agencies using similar selection factors, and funding decisions will be made by both agencies according to research priorities of both countries. NIH has pledged to support up to $4 million in total costs in FY 2012 under this program, whereas NSFC has indicated that approximately 300,000 renminbi (about $47,000) will be available per project to support Chinese collaborators.