Symposium focuses on GI cancers
Cases of liver cancer have tripled over the past decade and, worldwide it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths. Cancer of the pancreas remains a lethal disease, claiming an estimated 40,000 lives a year.
Meanwhile, there is enormous variability in the incidence of colorectal cancer across the globe, with a 40-fold greater incidence in the United States than in Africa.
These were some of the sobering statistics shared during BIDMC's 5th Annual Cancer Symposium, "Gastrointestinal Cancer: New Frontiers in Genetics, Strategies and Therapies," held recently.
A recurring theme throughout the symposium was the need for collaboration to develop and pursue new strategies against these formidable diseases.
Speaking about pancreatic cancer, BIDMC's Chief of General Surgery Mark Callery, MD, noted, "Any chance of curing this recalcitrant disease requires that we work together. We need to blend science and medicine, we need to focus on early detection, on genetics and biomarkers, on the ‘omics' [including genomics, proteomics and metabolomics] and on predictive modeling."
The day-long program examined advances in GI cancer research - from laboratory investigations uncovering new genetic clues to "bench-to-bedside" translational research, to epidemiological studies examining large patient cohorts - and current treatment and diagnostic strategies. Featured speakers included BIDMC investigators as well as researchers from leading institutions throughout the United States and abroad.
Following an introduction by Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Scientific Director of BIDMC's Cancer Center, who organized the event with Lewis Cantley, PhD, Chief of Signal Transduction in Department of Medicine, the program opened with a presentation by BIDMC's Daniel Tenen, MD, who is also the Director of the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore.
Tenen's talk focused, in part, on his laboratory's novel work on long non-coding RNAs in gene regulation and their role in liver cancer.
Rebecca Miksad, MD, MPH, a physician-investigator in BIDMC's Division of Hematology/Oncology, followed. "In contrast to breast cancer or prostate cancer, liver cancer mortality is growing, with a less-than-one-year survival rate," said Miksad. "Our goal is to gain a better understanding of growth patterns and predictors of liver cancer [in order to improve both treatment choices and timing of treatment for liver cancer patients.]"
The topic shifted to colorectal cancer, featuring presenters Robert Coffey, MD, of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Frederic de Sauvage, PhD, of Genentech, Inc.; Alberto Bardelli, PhD, of the University of Torino (Italy) School of Medicine; and Kevin Haigis, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Presentations described recently identified signaling pathways and targeted therapies, as well as "liquid biopsies," novel means to non-invasively detect mutations in patients' blood months before they can be measured by radiographic approaches.
Charles Fuchs, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, later described how large epidemiological cohort studies are providing insights into the role of lifestyle factors on colorectal cancer. George Demitri, MD, also of DFCI, described recent findings into gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), a subtype of sarcoma.
The symposium concluded with a discussion of pancreatic cancer. Following talks by Nabeel Bardeesy, PhD, of the MGH Cancer Center and Alex Kimmelman, MD, PhD, of DFCI, the final presentations by Jennifer Tseng, MD, MPH, Clinical Co-director for Surgical Oncology in BIDMC's Cancer Center and Callery shifted to clinical options, surgical procedures and the treatments of tomorrow, including bioinformatics, predictive modeling and new robotic surgical techniques.
As Tseng summarized, "To win the war on pancreatic cancer, we need better targets, better tools and better strategies." And as Callery reminded the audience, "It will be necessary to work together as a team to achieve all of these goals."