Knight Scientific Research Retreat features new directions in cancer research

presentationOn Friday, Nov. 9, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute hosted the 2012 Knight Scientific Research Retreat.  Institute leaders joined more than 180 investigators, faculty members and research staff to discuss the latest advances in knowledge across a spectrum of the disease, from cancer biology to disease mechanisms, from personalized treatments to survivorship.

The successful retreat took place at Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash.  “The goals were to share information and knowledge, foster collaboration and map out a direction for larger-scale grants and projects that engage multiple invetigators,” said Tom Beer, M.D., Knight deputy director and professor of medicine. “All those goals were accomplished. And there was a real gain in energy from the togetherness. Folks tend to labor on the cancer problem in their own laboratories and groups, and having everyone together was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to see themselves as part of a larger effort.”

Brian Druker, M.D., Knight director and associate dean of oncology, launched the day’s program with a report on future Knight research program organizational changes. With an eye toward the Knight’s National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support grant competing renewal in spring of 2015, Dr. Druker discussed how the institute is planning a restructuring of its 170-plus research members to further stimulate collaborations among and between cancer biologists, clinician researchers and population scientists.

Speaker“In order to accelerate translation from the lab to the clinic, we need to define ourselves as a cancer center that is oriented around scientific strengths as well,” said Dr. Druker. “We want to become a cancer center of the future, and that requires that we develop an infrastructure that is tumor-site agnostic. We need each individual to think about how they can help feed the pipeline of discoveries.”

At the retreat, more than 15 investigators gave presentations. Among them, Melissa Wong, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology, delivered a talk entitled, “Macophage-cancer fusion in metastatic cancer,” and Charles Keller, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, delivered a talk entitled, “Chemokine regulation of the leptomeningeal metastasis of medulloblastoma.”

Daniel Marks, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, gave a presentation called, “The neuroscience of cancer cachexia,” in which he focused on a different piece of the cancer puzzle. The syndrome of decreased appetite, lethargy, elevated metabolic rate and other symptoms can occur in late-stage cancer or other terminal illnesses and is associated with 20 percent of cancer deaths, including that of actor Patrick Swayze. Dr. Marks discussed work he’s doing to investigate mechanisms that initiate cachexia and their treatments.

Joe Gray, Ph.D., Knight associate director of translational research, professor and chair of biomedical engineering, and director of the OHSU Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine, shared some of his initial thoughts.  “I’m very cancer biology-centric, of course, but what we’re seeing in some of these presentations today is a focus on cancer beyond the tumors. It’s very exciting.”

Launching the afternoon presentations, Patricia Ganz, M.D., a professor in the UCLA Schools of Medicine and Public Health, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control Research, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, delivered the retreat’s keynote address.

In her talk, “Understanding the late effects of cancer treatment: host factors and personal vulnerability,” she discussed survivorship and the physical and mental “whole body” effects of cancer treatment on patients, in particular populations such as younger women that she defined as particularly vulnerable.

poster-sessionStudying survivorship through a brain-body lens is important, she urged, because as clinicians and scientists become ever more successful at treating cancer and prolonging life, more and more survivors will be entering the general population and coping with aftereffects of their treatment regimens in tandem with normal life stressors such as pursuing careers, starting families, parenting, elder care, etc.

Research symposiums such as this one are key to introducing new lines of thinking and inquiry in cancer research, Dr. Ganz added. “We all work in silos, and it’s so wonderful to be able to meet over lunch or over a poster and discover someone who is working on a similar problem but who’s approaching it with a different perspective,” she said.

Dr. Gray and Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., Knight associate director of basic research and chair and professor of cell and developmental biology, led a discussion on the importance of team science and how it dovetails with the development of multidisciplinary grant submissions.

After each presentation, a short Q&A time gave investigators the chance to not only ask questions but share tips and best practices with one another on facilitating collaboration, finding funding, developing models for sharing knowledge and identifying strategies for overcoming  a number of challenges. The discussions continued at lunch, during the poster session which featured more than 60 posters, and into the evening reception.

“The biggest highlights for me were the exciting discussions between clinically-focused investigators and basic scientists as well as the population investigators and basic and clinical scientists,” said Dr. Beer. “There is much opportunity for these different groups to enrich one another.”



Pictured: (top) Investigators at the 2012 Knight Scientific Research Retreat listen to a presentation by Daniel Marks, M.D., Ph.D.; (middle) Patricia Ganz, M.D., delivers the retreat keynote; (bottom) Poster session at the 2012 Knight Scientific Research Retreat