Approaching cancer in 3D

Cancer, as in many complex problems, can best be approached by looking at it from every angle, i.e. in three dimensions. We do this literally through reconstructing images such as CT scans, confocal microscope pictures or computerized molecular modeling. We also do this figuratively through the 3Ds of discovery, development and dissemination.

Discovery – As a scientist, I and other researchers at Holden have experienced the wonder and excitement of a new observation in the laboratory. There is nothing quite like the Eureka moment that comes with seeing an unexpected research result for the first time that opens up a new concept or suggests new avenues for further investigation. Sometimes, in basic research, the practical implications of a given research project or discovery are not immediately apparent. Nevertheless, progress is built on such discoveries. No one predicted that studying how micro-organisms can grow in the near boiling water of the Yellowstone hot springs would lead to a discovery of an enzyme that is key to analysis of cancer-causing genes, but it did. I cringe when uninformed politicians or the press attacks a field of basic research as being useless because its practical implications are not yet clear. There are hundreds of examples where exploration without a clear practical goal led to discoveries that served as the foundation for advances that eventually had huge practical implications. A recent example from Holden is the work of Dr. Gail Bishop exploring a molecule known as TRAF3 that has helped point the way towards a new treatment for lymphoma.

Development – Applied research builds on basic research to develop strategies for addressing real problems. In cancer research, this includes a broad spectrum of studies extending from the laboratory to the clinic. In the laboratory, we take basic research advances such as the delineation of the incredibly complex interactions of molecules within a cancer cell, and use that information to develop new approaches to the diagnosis or treatment of cancer. These new approaches then need to be tested in patients in a way that protects the rights of the patient and advances the science.  A recent example from Holden is a series of clinical trials exploring the anti-cancer effects of extremely high doses of intravenous Vitamin C that are based on robust laboratory studies by your Free Radical metabolism team demonstrating how high levels of vitamin C can make various anti-cancer therapies more effective.

Dissemination – Society invests in cancer research with the expectation that it will result in scientific advances that will provide the basis for reducing the burden of cancer for those we serve. Researchers at Holden work in the community to identify new approaches to cancer control that can provide us with better tools to reduce the burden of cancer across our community. This type of dissemination research is particularly important for populations that have a disparately high burden of cancer where new approaches are badly needed. Cancer control efforts, such as those coordinated through the Iowa Cancer Consortium take what has been discovered through decades of research and work at a practical level to disseminate these advances to improve cancer prevention, early detection, therapy and quality of life in the community. In fact, the Consortium recently developed and released an updated Iowa Cancer Plan that outlines our plans for dissemination of cancer control. It was formally released at the Iowa Cancer Summit last week. My cover letter for the Iowa Cancer Plan is included below and the full plan can be found here.

Holden works in this three dimensional environment to make basic science discoveries, conduct research to develop new approaches to preventing, detecting or treating cancer, and identify better approaches to cancer control. We also work to disseminate these advances to the community through partnerships with groups such as the Iowa Cancer Consortium. This three dimensional approach helps assure our efforts to reduce the burden of cancer for those we serve do not fall flat.

George Weiner, MD Letter of Support 2018-2022 Iowa Cancer Plan