war on cancer

Gene and Tonic: Boxing for Cancer, Dubious Correlations, and When Should a Researcher Retire


In a keynote talk this week for the online Genetics and Genomics conference, computational biology whiz, John Quackenbush, listed some pretty wild correlations found by a Harvard Business School student when he mixed some large data sets.  For example, U.S. spending on science, space, and technology corresponds directly with suicides by hanging, strangulation and suffocation.  We never would have guessed it without the help of big data.

In an L.A. Times article entitled, Why whole genome testing hurts more than it helps, two authors argue that the number of possible connections and patterns in analyzing the three billion bases in the human genome is just "astronomical" and most of the time quite irrelevant to patient care.  They offer more examples of dubious correlations coming from big data seets.  In one study done on 5 million Ontario patients, Canadian statisticians looked for the correlation between astrological signs and hospital diagnoses and found -- are you ready for this? --  "Leos were significantly more likely to be admitted for digestive tract bleeding and Sagittarians were significantly more likely to be admitted for upper-arm fractures.”

Are these spurious correlations the reason that Quackenbush has taken up boxing?  It's the old fashioned methodology:  bang some new relevant correlations into the head.

And finally, we reluctantly come up with several reasons why aging scientists should retire.  There is no mandatory retirement age in the U.S. and younger researchers are understandably feeling neglected by the NIH.  Numbers show that NIH funding awarded to researchers over 65 has doubled since 1998.  And a new plan by the NIH to come up with "emeritus" grants encouraging researchers to wind things down just isn't taking off.  

What to do, what to do?  Enjoy our weekly wrap on life science news.


Putting the Bench Next to the Bedside: Laurence Cooper, MD Anderson Cancer Center


Laurence Cooper, MD, PhD, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:55) When clinical science and bench research is one and the same

Listen (10:40) Single cell genomics enabling next level of immunotherapy

Listen (5:00) Marrying immunotherapy with gene therapy - Four clinical trials

Listen (4:18) Is this a new model for drug development?

Listen (8:30) Why has the war on cancer taken so long?

Laurence Cooper is one of those rare MD and PhD hybrids-what he calls a "'super nerd." Specializing in immunotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Cooper is a pediatric oncologist with a very important resource: he also runs a laboratory where he's able to study the basic biology underlining his patients' cancers.

"Clinical science and bench research are one and the same," he affirms in the interview.

This concept is nothing new. But that a doctor is able to treat his patients with therapy developed in his own laboratory is very rare.

Today's show with Dr. Cooper is the final program in our series on single cell genomics. He explains how the new tools for looking at and manipulating individual cells are transforming immunotherapy. Today, treatment for childhood leukemia has become much more targeted and way less toxic.

And Dr. Cooper is not limited only to naturally occurring stem cells in a donor to transplant to his patients. With genetic engineering, his lab is able to create or reengineer specific cell types for transplant. Currently the lab has four clinical trials going which enable Dr. Cooper and his team to treat his own patients with the latest therapies that are developed in the lab.

This marriage between the clinic and the lab is a powerful example of the translation of biomedical science. Could it be a model for drug development?

That depends a lot on funding, concedes Dr. Cooper. His lab is funded by MD Anderson, but also in large part through NIH grants. The interview ends with a discussion on funding for the "war on cancer" with a provocative comparison to the "war on terror."

On 9/11, 3,000 people died. Yet every two days, that many people die from cancer. Dr. Cooper wonders why "the outrage of 9/11 has not yet translated into outrage of still having 3,000 people die every two days."

We hope to have Dr. Cooper back on the program soon as part of our series on the "war on cancer."

Podcast brought to you by: Fluidigm - The leader in single-cell genomics and maker of the C1™ Single-Cell Auto Prep System. The path less traveled just got easier.