Webster’s dictionary defines the word retreat as “an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable.” That definition only partially fits a current use of the word where a group withdraws from day-to-day activities to focus on broader strategic directions and goals. Indeed, my colleague, friend and partner on the Iowa/Mayo Lymphoma Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE), Dr. Tom Witzig, refuses to use the word “retreat” to describe such gatherings. The intent of the effort is to speed progress, so he prefers the word “advance”.
Last week, more than 200 faculty, staff and students gathered off site to participate in the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Research Retreat. Using Tom’s affirmative-thinking nomenclature, our Cancer Center Research Advance was a great success, and an inspiring day for a number of reasons.
The full spectrum of cancer research at Holden was presented as both oral presentations and posters from 88 submitted abstracts. Those present at the Advance learned about new fundamental discoveries related to specific genetic pathways that impact cancer cell growth, potential new approaches to cancer therapy and how we can do a better job caring for cancer patients in the real world. It was gratifying to see enthusiastic students engaging with faculty, and seeing new collaborations emerge from the discussions. I learned a huge amount about the work being done at our center and particularly enjoyed walking among the posters and talking to the students and trainees.
It is extremely difficult to select from among the many strong presentations given the depth and breadth of research taking place at Holden. A couple of examples include the best oral presentation award given to Dr. Katie Harmoney, a pediatric Hematology Oncology Fellow, for her presentation on targeting ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) in Ewing sarcoma. Her presentation was based on work she is doing in Dr. David Gordon’s lab. The best poster award was given to Nicholas Borcherding, an MD, PhD student, describing work he is conducting in Dr. Weizhou Zhang’s lab exploring approaches to targeting DNA mismatch repair in aggressive breast cancer.
There is no question that the Advance will accelerate cancer research, and help us bring research findings to our patients more quickly. The creativity, enthusiasm and talent of our students and trainees was particularly exciting to see. They are a sure sign our ability to Advance will continue well into the future. My thanks to the staff and steering committee for putting together such a great program, presenters, sponsors and all those who made it such a special day.