On November 6, Memorial Sloan Kettering will once again host our popular “Major Trends in Modern Cancer Research” seminar, in which our scientists working in groundbreaking areas of cancer research talk to high school students and teachers about their latest discoveries. Following the presentations, students can ask the investigators questions about their research.
Now in its ninth year, the seminar was designed to foster young people’s enthusiasm for science and medicine.
This year’s event will begin with remarks from MSK President and CEO Craig Thompson. Three scientists who work in different fields — chemist Daniel Heller, developmental biologist Danwei Huangfu, and physician-scientist David Solit — will then present their current research.
About 550 people are scheduled to attend the event at MSK’s main campus on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. For the third year in a row, the program will also be available as a live webcast.
Nanotechnology and Cancer
Dr. Heller’s talk, entitled “Tiny Solutions to Big Problems: The Impact of Nanotechnologies on Cancer Research,” focuses on his laboratory’s work in the growing field of nanotechnology — the science of manipulating materials on an extremely small scale, based on the nanometer (one billionth of a meter).
“New technologies making their way to the lab and the clinic will be used to diagnose and treat cancer, and to provide new tools to accelerate cancer research,” Dr. Heller says. “My talk will cover nanomaterials — tiny particle technologies — that are having a big impact.”
“As a former middle school teacher, I am extremely grateful that MSK puts on events like ‘Major Trends’ for the community, and I am very excited to participate in it,” he adds. “Like many other researchers, I was exposed to science at an early age and the interest grew with me as I matured. I hope to impart some of my enthusiasm for science and research, and the love of working long hours with the possibility of doing big things to help many, many people.”
Dr. Heller is an Assistant Member of the Molecular Pharmacology and Chemistry Program at the Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI).
Stem Cells as a Model System
Dr. Huangfu’s presentation is “Human Pluripotent Stem Cells: A New Model for Studying Disease — Including Cancer.” Her lecture will focus on the study of human pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to develop into almost any other cell type, as a new model system for learning about diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
“Human pluripotent stem cells can be used to study embryonic development, model disease conditions, and learn about disease mechanisms,” Dr. Huangfu explains. “Some of these approaches apply to studies of cancer.”
“I hope to explain how stem cell biology, and biomedical science in general, have the power to potentially change the future of medicine,” she says. “At the same time, I want them to know that it’s incredibly cool!”
Dr. Huangfu is an Assistant Member of the Developmental Biology Program at SKI.
Dr. Solit will present “A Study of Extraordinary Responders: Lessons Learned.” Extraordinary responders are people who benefit greatly — and may even be cured — from a new drug in a clinical trial while most other participants in the same study don’t benefit at all.
“We try to study these patients to figure out what made their cancer unique,” Dr. Solit says. “By having these outlier clinical results, we can often find genetic markers that predict benefit for a particular therapeutic approach. It’s a way to find new mutations that, if found in a person’s tumor, can tell us that this patient may benefit from a drug we already have.”
“As scientists, we always have to be encouraging the next set of leaders,” he adds. “I do that not only through programs like this but also by having students in various stages of their training work in my lab during the summer.”
Dr. Solit is an Associate Attending Physician on the Genitourinary Oncology Service and an Associate Member in the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program. He is also Director of the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Center for Molecular Oncology.