Sharpless reports on research, fundraising milestones at scientific retreat [VIDEO]

Norman E. Sharpless, MD, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center's director and the Wellcome Distinguished Professor in Cancer Research, delivered the State of the Cancer Center address at the 2015 UNC Lineberger Annual Scientific Retreat.

UNC Lineberger Director Norman E. Sharpless highlighted the center’s recent successes in research, fundraising and grants for more than 200 people gathered for the center’s scientific retreat on Tuesday.

Sharpless delivered the State of the Cancer Center address at the 2015 UNC Lineberger Annual Scientific Retreat, which was held this year at the Carolina Club on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. The retreat also included faculty research presentations and a poster contest for students and fellows.

 “The good news is abundant,” Sharpless said. “Probably most importantly from my perspective, the cancer center continues to churn out high quality, high impact science, and that’s really a clue that things are going well.”

The center had one of its best years for external fundraising from private donors in fiscal year 2015, and Sharpless expects to see improvement. The center also had good news coming out of the center’s core grant renewal application to the National Cancer Institute. The major, federally-funded core grant supports infrastructure and shared resources for the center, and also funds pilot research projects. UNC Lineberger’s grant application received an “exceptional” rating, and the grant has been renewed.

“I’m so impressed how people would drop what they’re doing to help us convince the NCI that our efforts are really terrific,” Sharpless said.

The state-funded University Cancer Research Fund continues to be a game-changer for cancer research, Sharpless said. The fund has allowed for major investments in next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics, he said.

In addition to updates on grants and funding, Sharpless also highlighted important ongoing research that center members are leading, including work by UNC Lineberger researchers with The Cancer Genome Atlas. The project is an effort to comprehensively map genetic changes driving cancer across tissue types. He said UNC Lineberger researchers are working now to put the knowledge gained from that collaborative, multi-center project to use. He also highlighted work by center researchers to understand and find new ways to combat resistance to protein kinase inhibitors as well as the effort to better understand breast cancer disparities in North Carolina through the third phase of the Carolina Breast Cancer Study.

Looking to the future, he highlighted the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery as a powerhouse in cancer drug research and as a source of important future discoveries. He also noted the expected launch of a clinical program by UNC Lineberger researchers into a type of investigational immunotherapy treatment that uses engineered immune cells called T-cells to fight cancer.

“It’s really off to a great start; I can’t imagine things going better,” Sharpless said of the program.

The center will look to invest in new next-generation sequencing technology, Sharpless said, in his review of new investments and initiatives. He also said the center will look to launch a major population sciences initiative to try to understand and respond to disparities in cancer incidence and treatment outcomes that exist in North Carolina.

Tuesday’s retreat also included research presentations by UNC Lineberger faculty and postdoctoral research associates. Faculty presented research ranging from investigations of the role of drug pricing and government policy in access to cancer treatment, to studies of communication strategies to help physicians communicate with parents about the vaccine to prevent against the cancer-causing virus HPV, to research into the health effects of emerging tobacco products such as little cigars that are less regulated than cigarettes.

The event ended with a reception and poster contest for studies first-authored by students or fellows. Awards were given for the best posters in each of three categories: basic, clinical/translational, and population sciences. Cash prizes of $250, $150 and $100 were awarded for the best posters in each of the three categories. For a full description of the winners and their projects, go here.