Making All the Difference
The breakfast reminded us that cancer afflicts many of our families, and that progress toward a cure is both necessary and possible. Fortunately, the Institute for Prostate Cancer Research is well positioned to make such progress.
At last count, the institutions that comprise the IPCR (UW Medicine and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center) are in the top 5 prostate cancer research institutions nationally in acquiring federal funding for our research. Considering that only 7 percent of the research grants submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are currently funded, this is an amazing ranking. Yet every major multidisciplinary prostate cancer research center needs considerable private support to function at a high level.
This year, we plan to use most of the proceeds from the breakfast to fund pilot projects; we’re reviewing proposals even now. These are innovative, sometimes out-of-the-box ideas, often developed by junior researchers. Support allows these researchers to gather data needed to show proof of concept, a requirement before scientists can apply for more significant support, such as government grants. Providing the opportunity for a scientist to pursue new, high-risk, high-reward ideas is commonly what it takes for true innovation to occur in medical science. These projects have frequently made all the difference in the history of cancer research.
From Pilot Projects to Major Advances
Here in Seattle, IPCR-funded pilot projects — some made possible by previous breakfasts — have made major differences in the field of prostate cancer research.
For example, one IPCR researcher’s “wild” pilot project set out to disprove an assumption. Sometimes prostate cancer reappears in men who received drug-based, testosterone-lowering treatments to combat the cancer. Prostate cancer does not reappear because the tumors learned to live without testosterone, as we previously assumed. Rather, it was because the tumors had learned to make their own testosterone. Data from the pilot project confirmed this theory, and the proof of concept resulted in several federal grant awards. It also generated excitement worldwide about the potential of new prostate cancer therapies, some of which are now available in clinical trials and soon will be available to all men who need it.
Another pilot project set out to disprove a long-held belief about prostate cancer: that cancer cells escape the prostate and metastasize (usually to bone) only in a few cases, and, when they do, the results were invariably bad. Instead, the study found that prostate cancer cells escape the prostate and travel to the bones early in the clinical course in many men, and only in a small fraction of the men do these cells grow and lead to the patient’s death. This project also elicited federal support, and it generated great international optimism about new biomarkers and new therapies.
I hope that, by the time of the next Survivors Celebration Breakfast, I can report other pilot project success stories, ones that will move us all closer to the cure.
Feeding the Engines
Funds from the breakfast also will support activities that the government cannot or does not support, but that keep the engines of our great research enterprise flying high. For the sake of thoroughness, allow me to “go under the hood” and mention three major “engines:”
- Sustaining our nationally renowned animal models of human prostate cancer (the Lucas series), used by so many prostate cancer researchers here and around the world;
- Operating our extensive clinical research database, which collects and brings together clinical and research data so that we can be even more effective at bringing more new and promising therapies to the bedside; and
- Enhancing our prostate cancer specimen bank, which remains one of the best in the nation and is accessible to IPCR researchers and other prostate cancer researchers nationwide.
In closing, the IPCR’s team — more than 40 advanced-degree scientists and clinician scientists — have been invigorated by your support and interest. We pledge to you our very best efforts to make sure that the cure for prostate cancer comes as swiftly as possible and that Seattle shares in that triumphant day.
Paul H. Lange, M.D., FACS
Professor, Department of Urology, UW Medicine
Director, Institute for Prostate Cancer Research
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