Archive for April, 2011

Notes from a scientific meeting

Friday, April 8th, 2011

This blog post will be devoted to some thoughts and notes from a scientific meeting I just came back. It is always good to leave the laboratory environment and go to an international meeting full of new discoveries that can revolutionize fields such a cancer research. I am talking about the biggest cancer research meeting in the world, which is held every year with the objective of uniting cancer researchers  in one place to share and discuss ideas. This year it was in Florida, the sunny state in the United States. There are some points that I always like to take notes after coming back from such meetings. This year it was not different. The first topic for discussion is novelty. I have been going to this cancer research meeting for at least 5 years and I always see that there are not a lot of exciting discoveries and/or new drugs in development. I see old drugs being used in different ways or in combinations and also old compounds that are modified to cause less toxicity. This fact could be due to the cost of developing new drugs, what they say – the cost from bench to bedside. It is not new that blockbusters are in extinction and both pharma and biotech industries have to adapt to personalized medicine, that postulates the use of specific drugs (or a combination of them) for each patient or group of patients. In the last five years, I saw a big boom and trend towards RNA interference and microRNAs for drug development, but now it looks like things are changing again. Some years ago the promise was the anti-angiogenic approach, which was able to decipher angiogenic pathways that cancer cells use, but was unable to “cure” cancer. Well, science is in “waves”, I like to say. One researcher discovers something that becomes a field with a initiation, a high peak (or boom) and then fall into oblivion. Second note is something I am against: every year in this meeting (and other meetings I have been going to) the same exact researcher who is a leader in that field will be giving talks. There has not been a big change in the last years and “new” scientists with novel ideas and interesting things to say remain with a small space to talk or to present a poster. The scientific world needs a change. Maybe the fact that there have not been big discoveries and new exciting drugs under developed is because the same people will be always “dictating” the rules. The third and last note is intimately linked to the “wave” effect in science. One example is the fact that talks from renowned researchers will have a line and people standing in the room to watch while “new” fields that just emerged will have an empty room. A field that I saw crowded rooms was epigenetics and next generation sequencing applied to cancer research. Emerging trends that I saw empty rooms: long non-coding RNAs in cancer research (not microRNAs) and genetic syndromes that have as a consequence increased frequency of cancer in people that is affected (eg.: Li-Fraumeni Syndrome and cancer). The lesson I took home: waves are important but we have always to watch for the empty rooms. Maybe one of these topics will be the crowded room in the next five to ten years or so. Who knows…Let’s wait and see.