Dr. Brian Reid of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Human Biology Division was invited to speak last Thursday as part of the National Cancer Institute’s Excellence in Molecular Diagnostics lecture series.
According to the NCI, this lecture series, held on the on the main campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, highlights “outstanding leaders who are making groundbreaking contributions in molecular diagnostics and who have demonstrated broad and integrated approaches in the development and implementation of diagnostics commensurate with emerging technologies.”
Reid’s talk, “Thinking Like a Cancer: Neoplastic Evolution in Time and Space,” detailed his take on precision medicine and his research into the evolution of esophageal cancer from the metaplastic condition Barrett’s esophagus. Reid’s goal is to understand the complex, branching evolution to cancer and how it can inform strategies to reduce overdiagnosis and overtreatment of non-progressing conditions that will not lead to cancer while also lessening underdiagnosis of individuals at high risk of developing malignancies, particularly in the case of Barrett’s and esophageal cancer.
“My definition of precision medicine for early detection is the identification of [a potentially lethal] cancer at the precise point in space and time when it can be cured by current therapies,” Reid said. Most cases of Barrett’s esophagus, or BE, never progress to cancer, and treating it “is more like a war on BE than a war on cancer,” he said.
Reid works to expand the window of opportunity in Barrett’s esophagus screening to accurately detect those patients at high risk of suddenly and rapidly progressing to esophageal cancer, while also weeding out those whose Barrett’s will remain stable.
Reid’s lecture addressed a growing understanding that Barrett’s esophagus may well be a protective mechanism against cancer. He also addressed the growing evidence that an unknown mutagen may underlie the recent rise in esophageal cancer incidence even as tobacco use — once considered a strong risk factor — has plummeted. In addition, he described his expectation that adaptive immunotherapy may well be the most promising method to treat a highly mutated cancer that lacks hallmark “driver” mutations that could be tackled by a targeted therapy.
“I don’t care how I beat cancer, I just want to beat it,” he said.
Dr. Katherine Tarlock, a clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is being awarded a $100,000 grant by Northwestern Mutual Foundation, through its nonprofit partner Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. The grant will support Tarlock’s research in developing therapeutic strategies to help children with leukemia. Tarlock is one of eight researchers selected for the grant funded by Northwestern Mutual nationwide.
“This grant will allow critical research needed to examine chemotherapeutic agents and the investigation of novel therapeutic strategies,” Tarlock said. “Through my work, I hope to identify novel agents that will be effective in treating children with relapsed acute myeloid leukemia. The support from this grant will allow us to take critical steps to improve our ability to offer innovative treatments to children with leukemia."
The childhood cancer grant is awarded through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s Young Investigator Program. Specifically, the grants are designed as start-up funds for scientists at the early stages of researchers’ careers to pursue promising ideas and projects.
"We're honored to support and fund Dr. Tarlock’s passion and commitment to find the answers we need to deliver hope for children and their families,” said John Kordsmeier, president of Northwestern Mutual Foundation. "Childhood cancer is merciless and we urgently need researchers to pursue cutting edge treatments and to accelerate the search for lifesaving cures.”