report of BCRF scientific conference 2006
Fifth Annual Scientific Retreat Emphasizes Dramatic Drop in Federal Research Funding
This five-year-old tradition, held at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on October 16, 2006, has been made possible each year since inception by support from BCRF Advisory Board member Muriel Siebert. The Retreat gives BCRF-funded scientists an opportunity to meet, learn about one anotherís projects and make connections that often lead to collaboration or sharing data.
Scientific collaboration is not only a valuable activity in the breast cancer research field, it is increasingly a desperate need. Each of the speakers at the Conference emphasized the serious plunge in government funding for cancer research.
told the audience that National Cancer Institute review panels are funding only about eight percent of meritorious grants. In other words, after a rigorous peer-reviewed weeding out process, even the worthiest of research grant proposals are being supported at inadequate levels. "An entire generation of scientists is stalled by this process," said BCRF scientific director Larry Norton, MD
. Young researchers with excellent projects that should be pursued can't get started due to a lack of funding, he added.
Dr. Norton spends his time at each year's Conference touting the accomplishments of the grantees, a large group now 115-strong, and his own past and current research therefore is often downplayed. This year was different. Because his current research relates to breast cancer stem cells and because he was honored with this year's Jill Rose Award on the tenth anniversary of the award, Norton presented insights from his research at the October 16 Retreat.
Known throughout the cancer field for introducing the benchmark of "dose-density" treatment methods-treatment given rapidly in larger doses, rather than spread out longer at reduced dose or in combination with other drugs-Norton with his colleague Joan Massagué currently studies the phenomenon of metastasis.
In his presentation, Norton described metastasis in a new way. Some cancers, he said, appear to be "self-seeding," meaning that they are metastatic to themselves. This means that some cancers grow large in their primary site because they continuously seed the primary site, rather than exclusively seeding new sites, the prevailing way we have understood metastasis. This may be why some cancers that have metastasized are associated with faster growth in their primary site (such as some lung cancers). And, as Norton continued, self-seeding cancers, if they can be more closely identified, conform to what we think breast cancer stem cells do. Scientists may be able to halt the most pernicious aspects of breast cancer-stem cells that self-renew and defy conventional treatment and metastasis-if a link between self-seeding cancer cells and cancer stem cells is firmly established. What's more, Norton explained that by examining the relation of the periphery versus the diameter of tumors as they grow, scientists may one day be able to treat cancers by influencing the anatomic pattern of cells, rather than killing cells indiscriminately.