Celebrating cancer research at AACR

One of my favorite sayings at the American Association of Cancer Research is "...and you'll see the preliminary results at ASCO." AACR is a little different from the large oncology meeting we attend in the summer--the American Society of Clinical Oncology or ASCO--because AACR focuses on all aspects of cancer research (from start to finish), whereas ASCO is mostly clinical research (the finish line). As it happens, ASCO news is typically AACR news a few years ago. It's a great place to get a pulse on where cancer research is heading. So, when I hear an AACR speaker tell us that we'll hear more results at ASCO, it lets me know that we're on the right track and the research is moving to the patient setting and hopefully the clinic soon.While the road to cancer research is bumpy--an understatement--and we fail more than we succeed, I get the feeling this year holds a lot of excitement for the attendees. In addition to the standing-room only sessions and talks by this year's AACR Distinguished Public Service Award winner Katie Couric and Pulitzer Prize-winning author-oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, AACR also sets the stage for Stand Up to Cancer's annual Dream Team announcement.An overall theme is emerging this year, and that is that we are beginning to research and treat the cancer as an organism – not in the fact that it's a living being, but as in we are looking at the entire picture, including the cancer's environment, how it interacts with other organisms in the body, what drives it, what makes it different, etc. Mukherjee said in his talk that although we are finding that cancer is so much more complex and individualized that we ever imagined, the optimist in his says that there are still commonalities. He gave us a brief history lesson in showing that we have moved beyond merely finding cancer genes, but that we must now consider proteins, genomes, network interactions, and the cancer's physiological pathways in its environment. One of Mukherjee's ending slides in his presentation was Barbara Bradfield – Patient 0 in the first patient clinical trial involving the HER2-positive breast cancer drug, Herceptin (trastuzumab). He reports that Bradfield, who continues to be a patient advocate and is living with metastatic breast cancer in Oregon, is a testament to cancer research. And the best of cancer research is ahead of us.