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Cancer: The Hunt for a Cure

Our Chief Medical Editor checks in with Stand Up to Cancer's dream team researchers.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Moderator: Michael W. Smith, MD
Roundtable participants: Lewis C. Cantley, PhD (Harvard Medical School); Peter Jones, PhD (University of Southern California); Dennis J. Slamon, MD (UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center). Read more about the researchers and their teams’ work.

"This is where the end of cancer begins."

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That is the mantra and the mission of Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), the powerhouse advocacy organization founded last fall to raise money to kick-start cancer research. SU2C got off to a splashy, star-studded start with a primetime TV show and fundraiser. Then, just nine months later in May, SU2C had raised enough money to award nearly $74 million to five U.S. cancer research teams (dubbed "dream teams") involving more than 200 researchers from 20 leading institutions. The goal? To work together in a more collaborative way to speed effective new treatments from labs to patients as quickly as possible.

Cancer is still a formidable foe, despite decades of research. The cancer death rate has decreased over the last 15 years, but cancer still claims entirely too many lives: According to the American Cancer Society, more than 560,000 people will die of cancer in 2009. 

Taking a multidisciplinary, integrated approach, SU2C proposes to reduce some of these numbers by changing how cancer is researched. To find out more, WebMD talked to three dream team leaders -- find out more about them below -- about their projects, how they plan to use the grant money, and what their work will mean for cancer patients -- with luck, sooner rather than later.

Q: What makes the SU2C research model so different for cancer research?

Cantley: This new approach to funding as well as the researchers' collaborative approach [means] there is sufficient money to put together teams across institutions and still have enough so people can actually reach their goals. We can bring in people who have very strong expertise in different fields to share the money and their expertise.

Dr. Jones: In addition, it allows people to draw up collaborative arrangements with their colleagues and competitors much more quickly than is usually the case. With this initiative, there was a clear urgency to get the right people together as quickly as possible.

Dr. Slamon: We all believe in this model, and I agree that it is unique in demanding a multi-institutional approach of experts. Also, the team leaders will be interacting among teams where there is obvious overlap, sharing information across teams, not just within teams.

Q: Dr. Cantley, your area of research is the PI3K "pathway," a process that leads to cancerous cells growing and surviving. What exactly are you studying?

Dr. Cantley: As you note, the pathway itself controls cell growth and survival. "PI3K" is actually an enzyme that is the central player in that pathway. Research has confirmed that the P13K pathway is perhaps the most mutated pathway in all of cancer, and especially in women's cancers. So what's exciting is that [it may be] possible to make a small molecule that you can take as a pill orally that would turn off the enzyme's function and thereby stop the growth of the cancer. That could be potentially useful in treating the disease.

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