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Scholar Retreat

October 1–4, 2015

Chaired By

 Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD of Vanderbilt University

Meeting Description

The Scholar Retreat held annually, invites scholars and mentors to attend a 3-day meeting. This meeting focuses on bringing junior scientists together from various areas of cancer research. The collaborations and innovative ideas that come from this meeting have been numerous and outstanding. The mentors provide great guidance regarding science and career for these junior scientists.

At the Retreat, 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, providing them 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.

Meeting Summary

October 1, 2015 brought another phenomenal group of energetic and accomplished young investigators together at the Geneva National Resort for the 2015 Forbeck Scholar Retreat.

The Forbeck Foundation has integrated several key experiences into this exciting event. Together they have the effect of profoundly shaping the lives and careers of young scientists at this critical juncture as they develop an independent research program which will sustain their careers for the next 30+ years. These elements are: 1) a structured venue for discussing new research in a way that allows for extended open discussion, 2) an atmosphere that supports candor, with a relaxed environment so that scholars and mentors can achieve an intense scientific discussion that is both challenging and immensely fun, and 3) a sequestered environment in which scholars and mentors are given the time to get to know each other. The setting allows all to be comfortable with being open and critical and to establish relationships that allow for more than superficial conversations about career and scientific issues.

The 2015 Scholars came from a fairly broad range of topic areas in cancer biology: Drug Resistance Mechanisms, Tumor Metabolism, Epigenetics, and Invasion/ Metastasis. Mentors included former Forbeck Forum attendees Dr. Chi Dang, University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Jeff Rathmell, Vanderbilt University, as well as Dr. Cheryl Walker, Texas A&M, and Dr. Nav Chandel, Northwestern University. We all learned new details and ways to think about how these processes affect cancer.

The event was kicked off by an inspiring keynote by Dr. Chi Dang, Director of Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Dang spoke to the scholars with a candid and poignant style about the privilege of this career, as well as the responsibilities associated with it, from his perspective as a physician-scientist, chemist, cancer biologist, and leader in the academic medicine community. His talk covered a broad range of issues that are encountered, or will be encountered, by the scholars in public perceptions of science, value-based decision making, publication biases and credit issued for publication, issues involved in large team projects. Importantly, he reminded us all that facts have half- lives, and our search for “truth” is a never-ending quest.

The opening session on cancer epigenetics set the stage with energized talks by Grant Challen on epigenetic modifier mutations that shed light on emerging resistance and aging; Alvaro Rado-Iglesias, who shared a novel finding from a non-cancer syndrome Bronchio oculofacial syndrome (BOFS) illustrated the way positional enhancer regions in the genome can affect gene expression; Chris Vakoc had a first slide that led to a heated discussion of what constitutes an oncogene. Having resolved that issue, his discussion of screening strategies to determine the key functional domains of epigenetic regulators led us to consider new ways to nominate the active portions of these enigmatic proteins; Julie Losman described the first Forbeck funded collaborative grant between herself and scholar Cory Johannessen to use an unbiased saturation mutagenesis technique to anticipate mutations in genes that will be likely to produce resistance. I finished the morning session with one more epigenetics talk discussing our newest foray into how the disruption of histone methylation may contribute to tumorigenesis.

The afternoon session turned to metabolism. Led by Katy Wellen, this talk transitioned us from epigenetics with links from metabolism to histone regulation and DNA repair. Cory Johannessen helped us sort out the signal from the weeds with saturation mutagenesis strategies to reveal key protein domains that would be likely to be most sensitive for drug targeting. Kris Sarosiek explored the issue of “priming” and how the potential for proliferation was a key feature in the sensitivity of cells to signals inducing cell death.

Mentor, Dr. Navdeep Chandel of Northwestern University championed the mitochondria as the center of the known universe. With these ideas all bouncing around our heads, we retired to the bar and dinner where we knew already the weekend would be a success based on the chatter amongst the scholars and the mentors about the new ideas that had been explored in the conference.

Day two brought a group energized to push the envelope even further. We started off with an ACC Challenge: Kris Wood (Duke) examined ways of rapidly screening for potential therapeutic options for melanoma, and Chad Pecot (UNC) showed us that there are many ways to imagine [and track] how a cancer cell makes its way from the primary tumor to sites of metastatic growth. Mentor Cheryl Walker challenged my histone-centric view of the world with ideas that epigenetic modifiers might have more to do than their day job. The afternoon brought Mario Shields sharing his fascinating ways of “seeing” as well as manipulating the environment of the cancer cell. Mentor, Jeff Rathmell reinforced our impression that metabolism is really complicated. Louise van der Weyden showed us that accidents of nature can in fact be used to reveal novel facets of cancer; and finally, Mentor Chi Dang brought us full circle with exciting new things that Myc continues to reveal about the underpinnings of cancer.

Our final afternoon of scientific sessions continued around a cozy fireplace with an informal (and spirited) discussion starting on the topic of navigating team science, but also including lab management, grantsmanship, and topic prioritization. From there we proceeded to the Blue Jean Ball and enjoyed the wine tasting. This lovely event was a nice chance for us all to finalize those connections, meet the generous supporters of this important organization, and give us all a chance to remember again why we do this—because individuals and families continue to be profoundly affected by this disease.

Forum Participants

Maria-Francis Artega
King's College London
 Forbeck Scholar

Grant Challen, PhD
Washington University
 Forbeck Scholar

Navdeep Chandel, PhD
Northwestern University
 Retreat Mentor

Gary Hon, PhD
University of California San Diego
 Forbeck Scholar

Mohit Jain, MD, PhD
Harvard Medical School
 Forbeck Scholar

Cory M. Johannessen, PhD
Broad Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Rosandra Kaplan, MD
National Cancer Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Julie-Aurore Losman, MD, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Chad Pecot, MD
University of North Carolina
 Forbeck Scholar

Alvaro Rada-Iglesias, PhD
Stanford University
 Forbeck Scholar

W. Kimryn Rathmell, MD, PhD
University of North Carolina
 Retreat Mentor

Jeff Rathmell, PhD
Duke University
 Retreat Mentor

Kristopher A. Sarosiek, PhD
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Mario Shields, PhD
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
 Forbeck Scholar

Chris Vakoc, MD, PhD
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
 Forbeck Scholar

Chi Van Dang, MD, PhD
Abramson Cancer Center
 Retreat Mentor

Louise van der Weyden, PhD
Wellcome Sanger Institute
 Forbeck Scholar

Cheryl Walker, PhD
Texas A&M Institute
 Retreat Mentor

Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD
University of Pennsylvania
 Forbeck Scholar

Kris Cameron Wood, PhD
Duke University
 Forbeck Scholar

Hao Zu, MD
Harvard Medical School
 Forbeck Scholar