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Scholar Retreat

October 11–14, 2018

Chaired By

 Julie-Aurore Losman, MD, PhD - Dana-Farber

Meeting Summary

This meeting was a Scholars’ Retreat that was attended by scholars from four previous forums as well as five mentors who run the gamut from recently-appointed assistant professors to well-established full professors. Each of the attendees presented their work-in-progress, which was discussed in detail by the entire group. The research topics that were covered included cancer invasion and metastasis; cancer immunotherapy; chromosomal instability and aneuploidy; and targeting MYC and RAS.

All four of the topics covered at this meeting are areas of intense on-going research at the basic science, translational and clinical levels. The Forbeck Scholars who attended this meeting are among the best and brightest young investigators in their respective fields and they are certain to make important scientific contributions in the coming years. The opportunity for them to discuss their work and career development in the intimate setting of the Forbeck Scholars Retreat is an invaluable experience that will help to propel their independent research careers. As a former scholar, I can personally attest to the benefit of this meeting when one is setting up their own lab, hiring people and applying for major grants for the first time.

The scholars who attended this meeting hail from a diverse set of academic institutions in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chapel Hill, Dallas, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. As such, this meeting was the first time that many of them had met one another. At the meeting, thanks to its format that emphasizes intense discussion, they had the opportunity to start establishing personal connections that are sure to lead to future collaborations.

One of the most lively discussions during the meeting was about the future of cancer immunotherapy. There is concern in the field that immunotherapy has ‘peaked’ and that there is not much room for the field to advance in cancer types that are not responsive to current immunotherapy drugs. This concern was independently broached by several attendees, which led to an in-depth discussion that was both provocative and highly informative. Although immunotherapy is not my field, I suspect that the attendees who do work in immunotherapy left the meeting with renewed enthusiasm and less skepticism about the therapeutic potential of immunotherapy than when they arrived.

The clinical and translational importance of the topics discussed at this meeting cannot be overstated. Cancer invasion and metastasis is the step at which many tumors go from curable by surgical resection to incurable even with intensive therapy. As such, understanding how invasion and metastasis happen is absolutely essential to targeting this step in cancer progression and improving patient outcomes. Cancer immunotherapy has achieved extraordinary clinical responses in a subset of patients with incredibly aggressive tumor types with very high mortality, including melanoma and lung cancer. However, most patients either do not respond or have only brief responses before relapsing. Understanding why some tumor types respond and others don’t, and why some patients respond and others don’t, will lead to improved immunotherapy strategies that are efficacious in a greater number of patients. Chromosomal instability and aneuploidy is a poorly understood phenomenon wherein certain cancers ‘reshuffled’ their DNA into abnormal and potentially unstable conformations. This has the potential to induce novel vulnerabilities that may represent new cancer cell-specific therapeutic targets. Finally, MYC and RAS are two of the most common genes that are mutated in cancer and that drive tumorigenesis. Researchers have been trying for decades to target these oncoproteins, with minimal success. However, recent molecular biology advances have inspired investigators to revisit this question which, if successful, would represent a revolution in treating a wide range of different cancers.

Participant Information

Esra Akbay, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Julie Aurore-Losman, MD, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
 Retreat Mentor

Uri Ben-David, PhD
Broad Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Daniel Foltz, PhD
Northwestern University
 Retreat Mentor

Doug Green, PhD
St Jude's Research Hospital
 Retreat Mentor

Emily Hatch, PhD
The Salk Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Lilian Kabeche, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital
 Forbeck Scholar

Annette Kunkele, MD
University Hospital
 Forbeck Scholar

Kay MacLeod, PhD
University of Chicago
 Retreat Mentor

Chad Pecot, MD
University of North Carolina
 Forbeck Scholar

Stefano Santaguida, PhD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
 Forbeck Scholar

Jason Sheltzer, PhD
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
 Forbeck Scholar

Mario Shields, PhD
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cold Spring Harbor, NY
 Forbeck Scholar

Erica Lyn Stone, PhD
Wistar Institute
 Retreat Mentor

Neil Umbreity, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Louise van der Weyden, PhD
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Meeting Description

Each year, 16 Forbeck Scholars are invited to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin for a scientific gathering. Here, the Scholars share their research with the other Scholars and Mentors. Each Scholar will participate in four sequential retreats, with all expenses paid by WGFRF. The opportunity for Scholars to connect and form relationships with researchers from completely different areas of cancer research and to have a sort of peer review is one of the most valuable roles of the Retreat. Through the Mentors, the Retreat offers Scholars guidance on practical career issues such as writing grants and preparing successful scientific publications.

Each year, the Scholar Retreat coincides with the Foundation’s annual ‘Blue Jean Ball’ fundraiser. All Scholars attend this event, an opportunity to meet with families whose lives have been directly affected by cancer. This experience resonates particularly with scientists who unlike clinicians do not have contact with patients, by putting a human face on cancer.