Pbj, flickr: devlyn

Like PB&J, a cancer center is a serendipitous symbiosis. Image: Flickr/devlyn

At the annual CU Cancer Center retreat on October 30, Deputy Director Andrew Thorburn, PhD, described the experience of presenting his research to member Joaquin Espinosa’s lab at CU Boulder: “My lab had very neat footage of a cell effectively coming back to life after the initiation of apoptosis – programmed cell death,” says Thorburn, “but without a mechanism you don’t get a publication in a top journal and you don’t get your grant proposal funded.” Though working with only tangentially related biology, Espinosa suggested that a drug his lab had been working with could explain Thorburn’s footage.

“This is why we have a cancer center,” says Thorburn, pinch-hitting the retreat’s keynote address in place of Harvard’s Joan Brugge, who couldn’t get a flight out of Sandy-soaked Boston. The opportunity for collaboration outside the many micro-silos that make up cancer research in general, and the broad expertise presented at meetings like the annual retreat in particular, create a cancer center that is greater than the sum of its parts.

At the meeting, breast cancer researcher Anthony Elias, MD, asked questions about intervening in metabolic pathways to treat acute myeloid leukemia. The audience heard about phytic acid in chemoprevention, protein-protein interactions, postpartum breast cancer and more. Alongside much-published researchers with labs and R01 grants, postdocs presented their work on the stage and in posters, pointing the direction toward tomorrow’s breakthroughs in cancer science. And a slide was presented by the DeGregori lab showing a large picture of Billy Crystal in the movie Princess Bride underneath the quote, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

The room of myriad labs from many campuses made up of researchers at all stages of their careers come together as the University of Colorado Cancer Center with one goal: making cancer all dead.