Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Grand Rounds: Harold Varmus Discusses Cancer Cell Biology and Clinical Translation

Thirty-five years ago Harold E. Varmus [wikipedia], along with J. Michael Bishop, discovered the role of oncogenes in cancer.  That seminal discovery in 1975 gave cancer researchers a path, "the road to be taken," that has today led to great advancements in clinical oncology; it has changed the face of a growing number of cancer types to potentially curable or manageable forms.  Not long ago, both scientists were honored with the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1989 [read, [here, here]

Varmus was appointed as the Director of National Cancer Institute by President Obama last May.[read here]  In his new role at NCI, Varmus is focusing on immediate and near-future issues, such as, reforming the clinical trials system, drug-approval process; improving cooperation between federal agencies (e.g., FDA), industry and academia; develop vaccinations and tobacco-control programs to combat preventable cancers in poorer countries; and most notably, desist funding  “pie in the sky” research,  instead, he plans to brainstorm with the brightest minds and identify questions in cancer research and drug discovery that we need to answer and can answer over the next five to eight years. [read here]

I have chosen Harold's 2008 talk at Stanford for today's Grand Rounds.  So, grab a cup of coffee or Tazo (or wine or whatever) and listen to the master talk about cancer oncogenes and and how these discoveries are resulting in targeted therapies, like imatinib (Gleevec), its follow-up drugs, or erlotinib (Tarceva).  In Q&A, he touches upon other cancer targets, questions about cancer microenvironment, adjuvent cancer therapies (such as, vaccines), data sharing with public and other initiatives.

Also read:
  • A Q and A With Harold Varmus. Science News Staff.  Jan. 12, 2010 [Link
  • NCI Director Provides Update on New Programs and Initiatives.  NCI Cancer Bulletin, Vol 8(2), Jan. 25, 2011 [Link]
  • How to widen the hunt for targeted cancer therapy By Lauran Neergaard. The Washington Times, Sept. 28, 2010 [Link"Starting in October, Dr. Harold Varmus, the NCI‘s director, will begin quizzing top researchers from around the country about which of oncology’s underlying mysteries should be part of his “Big Questions Initiative,” a new focus of government cancer research.
  • Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the Earth. The Economist, Jan 8th 2009 [Link
  • The Harold Varmus Papers.  at Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine [Link
  • *Larry Moran, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto, wrote a good overview of oncogene discoveries made by Varmus and Bishop [read his blogpost here]
(Image Credit: , Harold Varmus is next to the DNA helix on the right)

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