Reality and Class at a Cancer Research Meeting

Just a quick post about observations I had at a recent prostate cancer meeting conducted by the US Department of Defense’s (DOD) Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). In the US, DOD is second only to NIH in the amount of funding provided for breast and prostate cancer research.
The meeting was held in Atlanta and spread over three days – a nice small meeting with few overlapping sessions and great opportunities for interaction with speakers and fellow scientists.


Most impressive, however, was the heavy presence of the cancer patient community in the proceedings. The meeting kicked off with a period of silence for all patients lost to prostate cancer and then each session began with a “consumer” speaker. (The term “patient advocate” seems to have gone by the wayside because, after all, aren’t we all patient advocates?). Tours of poster presentations were also given to groups of consumers by selected physicians and basic researchers.
The consumer speaker was usually a man living with prostate cancer, a leader of prostate cancer awareness/advocacy groups, and/or a member of an under-represented minority that is over-represented in the incidence of prostate cancer. (This approach is also used in DOD’s breast cancer conferences.)
For those of us who do not see patients for a living, every one of these speakers brought a human face to the battle we encounter daily at the lab bench with prostate cancer cells growing in a cell culture dish or as tumors in an immunocompromised mouse.
One speaker was particularly impressive, imploring us to not conduct our research casually but rather with an intensity and purpose concomitant with the thousands of patients in need of our discoveries.
Many of us scientists go into this field with both a wonder of biology and a sense of mission to help others. All too often, the system beats these idealistic thoughts out of us as we pursue the next publication, the next research grant, and the general tone of one-up-manship so common in today’s research climate.
For me, it was most refreshing to be reminded of why I went into this crazy business.

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One thought on “Reality and Class at a Cancer Research Meeting

  1. When I was a postdoc, I had a fellowship from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Their annual meetings have two parts–one for patients, and one for LLS-funded researchers, with some joint events. I went to the meeting at a time where I was really questioning my research, and whether I wanted to be in science at all. It was so amazing to meet these people who are so positive and strong, and to have the “patients” that you read about come to life. Very inspiring, indeed. I wish all meetings were like that.

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