The following is the second in a series of articles written by NCI scientists and senior principals on the Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2017, which were officially presented to the President on September 17, 2015. The proposal provides overview Key NCI priorities and initiatives, and the institute’s funding request for consideration by the President when formulating its own budget proposal for fiscal year 2017.
In this second article, NCI Acting Director, Dr. Doug Lowy, addresses the critical contribution of basic science to driving progress against cancer.
Over the past two decades, we have made significant progress in cancer diagnosis and treatment – progress that is reflected in the continued decline in cancer mortality rates and increasing numbers of survivors. This progress is possible only because of our efforts to understand the biological mechanisms on which cancer is based, and yesterday’s announcement of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is a clear example of this.
DNA in our cells is continually being threatened by external and external damage (eg, UV radiation from the sun and free radicals generated during normal metabolic cell activity). However, the cells have produced several mechanisms to repair damaged DNA and preserve the integrity of our genetic information.
Each of the three scientists awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry explains a different way of repairing DNA. The cutting-edge work of these scientists and their colleagues has greatly contributed to our understanding of how normal cells function and how abnormalities in DNA repair can contribute to the formation of cancer.
Anomalies in DNA repair can be inherited or acquired during the life of a person. The inheritance of a mutation leading to the inactivation of a repair path called DNA repair incompatibility is an example of an anomaly. The inherited mutations in this pathway are the cause of non-polyposis hereditary colon cancer, one of the most prevalent cancer syndromes in humans. The defects acquired in this same way have been related to a considerable percentage of sporadic cancers of the colon and rectum, endometrium, stomach and ovary.
Importantly, the insight gained from the work of these three scientists is leading to the formulation of new cancer therapies.
For example, in December last year, the FDA approved the drug olaparib (Lynparza ™) for the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer in women who have inherited a deleterious mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. Mutations in these genes inactivate a DNA repair pathway called homologous recombination repair. Olaparib inactivates a protein called PARP1, which is part of another DNA repair pathway known as basal cleavage repair. Simultaneous inactivation of these two DNA repair mechanisms results in the accumulation of lethal amounts of DNA damage and cancer cell death.
Everything starts with basic research
It is not known when or where the next step in cancer research will occur, but it always begins with basic research – often in areas where direct application to medicine is not immediately apparent, even in areas such as physics, mathematics And materials science.
As emphasized in the NCI Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2017, NCI has traditionally made substantial investments in basic research because the institute recognizes that basic research provides the foundation and raw materials for applied research, including for Transfer research and clinical research stemming from the excellent work of researchers such as this year’s Nobel Prize winners.
Hangout on Google
I am grateful for your comments on the role of basic research in advancing cancer. And I hope you will meet with me to talk more about this in Hangout on Google, scheduled for October 20 at 11:00 am Eastern time.
We will share more details about this event in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I urge you to read the Annual Plan and Budget Proposal as well as the remaining blog articles in this series.
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