Yesterday afternoon I returned from DC and the annual American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) meeting tired but exhilarated.
Despite the Europeans unfortunately stranded by the Icelandic volcano, business continued as usual with many presenters doing their talks by teleconference to live slides in the room. Quite a few researchers also FedExed their posters, so people could still peruse them and an envelope was provided for business cards or questions.
As we Brits say, "Keep calm and carry on."
There were approximately 18,000 delegates and 6,000 accepted posters this year, a sign of the times that the meeting is getting much bigger and cancer research is an active area of research.
The AACR staff did a fantastic job behind the scenes, were very responsive in whatever help or support was needed and also very active in social media, which was encouraged between delegates in order to share science and learnings with others in different sessions, those who were stranded and others who could not attend, but had an interest in the area.
In general, I think most of us used common sense and tweeted interesting and general highlight points made, but did not tweet material that was clearly labelled as unpublished, in press or from private discussions in poster sessions. If you want to find out more than the headlines, that's the point of travelling to the live meetings in person.
All this activity was very encouraging to see, because webcasts from key oral sessions and plenaries went up very quickly online for others to see. The missing Europeans possibly speeded this up, but AACR have a history of sharing science, as past meeting podcasts and interviews will demonstrate on the website. It also fosters comradeship and open science in the face of a common goal – curing cancer.
Here are the webcasts to date and also the link to podcasts and media teleconferences. Dr Ed Kim from MD Anderson did a superb job explaining the complexities of the BATTLE trial in simple, easy to understand language. I'm actually going to be listening to some of the webcasts and podcasts myself over the weekend because there were so many sessions one couldn't attend those in parallel, so it's really useful to see them up there.
If you are interested in cancer facts and figures, this short video from the AACR team may well surprise you:
It's always easy to criticise what organisations are doing if things are not exactly to our liking, but in this case, I genuinely want to say publicly, "Nice job, AACR!"
Twitter had several impacts for me at the meeting. I must confess that I dashed over to another session because Dr Naoto Ueno, an inflammatory breast cancer specialist at MD Anderson and a translational researcher, Dr Wafik El Deiry, at Hersey were both tweeting what looked to be a more interesting session than the one I was in (shhhh)! Such is the power of persuasive tweets. Twitter was also great for finding and meeting up with people one had been tweeting with, but not yet met. Chatting in the cloud is great, but meeting in real life also solidifies those relationships for the future and I was honoured to meet many really awesome people at AACR. I sincerely hope to catch those I missed at ASCO in June as it was a hectic meeting and trying to see everyone as well as attend sessions and posters was near nigh impossible.
It seemed particularly apt that a new Moleskine was christened at the beginning of the meeting for Dr Charles Sawyers opening plenary talk on prostate cancer and now the notebook is nearly a third full of chicken scratch notes already!
Still, many of you will be waiting with baited breath to hear what were the big picture emerging trends I noticed at this year's AACR?
Here are some quick thoughts of the top of my head:
- The cancer genome is now dominant and understanding the biology is very much a focus, even from manufacturers.
- Free plasma DNA is going to be critical for biomarker research.
- RNA seems appear in almost every other abstract (more later).
- GWAS is becoming more relevant, highlighting distinct subsets of patients who can then be evaluated for prognosis, biomarkers, efficacy and tolerability differences.
- Combination targeted therapy is the smart way to go to eliminate cross-talk, feedback and feedforward loops. They may also reduce some acquired resistance, at least for a time.
- Dr Bert Vogelstein noted that there are currently 12 critical pathways that impact cancer cell survival. Understanding these more will lead to new and better therapies.
- Despite all the above, cancer is a heterogeneous disease and much work still needs to be done in unravelling the mysteries behind it.
Over the next few days, I'll be posting more in-depth thoughts about some of the key new TKI classes that are in the clinic, as well as some of the hot research topics that are emerging. I have a lot of notes and over 500 poster handouts to condense in a Zen-like fashion before that can be done, not to mention some glorious blisters from miles of walking!
Do feel free to add any thoughts, questions or immediate observations you may have from the meeting in the comments below in the meantime, it's always good to hear from others.
Photo Credit: Amazon