Promise and Progress - Director's Letter
Date: January 2, 2014
A Ludwig-Johns Hopkins Partnership
A Ludwig-Johns Hopkins Partnership
Today, we hear frequently about the promise of personalized cancer medicine. However, what many do not realize is that the reason we can talk about it, the reason it exists, is primarily due to the pioneering work of Drs. Bert Vogelstein and Kenneth Kinzler and their team. When it comes to cancer genetics, their work is on the cutting edge of the cutting edge. They led the world to understand that cancer is a disease of genetic defects and then became the first laboratory in the world to reveal what those defects are. But, they didn’t do it alone. Of equal importance to their accomplishments is the funding that made these discoveries possible. The Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins is home to the laboratory of Drs. Vogelstein and Kinzler and the site of these revolutionary cancer discoveries. It is not an exaggeration to say that their research—the most commonly cited in all of medical science—would not have been possible without the support of Ludwig Cancer Research.
The genius of Drs. Vogelstein and Kinzler led them to prove more than two decades ago that cancer resulted from errors in cells’ genetic instructions. In the last decade, with Ludwig funding that allowed them to purchase and take advantage of automated gene sequencing technology, they could begin to envision ways this new understanding of cancer could be used to benefit cancer patients. They now had the capacity to look at all genes in the cancer genome simultaneously, and for the first time in the history of medicine, could reveal the genetic mistakes driving a cancer. Research that once took years could now be completed in months. Ludwig support truly represented a critical turning point in cancer discovery and the opportunity to bring about unprecedented changes in how cancer treatment could be imagined and delivered.
Cancer research funding is limited and highly competitive, and we are fortunate at the Kimmel Cancer Center to have talented faculty who do well in this process. However, limited funding that is affected by economic and governmental changes discourages investigators from pursuing novel and challenging ideas. Mr. Ludwig understood the relationship between risk and reward. The Ludwig funding allowed the Vogelstein/Kinzler team, some of the best scientists in the world, to take risks and swing for the fences. The payoff has been huge. It is the model for how a partnership between private philanthropy and science can and should work.
In that regard, Daniel K. Ludwig accomplished exactly what he set out to do in bringing the best minds and resources to bear in the fight to conquer cancer. Mr. Ludwig said, "The true value will not be measured until the clinical potential of discoveries are realized and they are impacting human suffering."
It has already begun to happen. In the Ludwig Center, the Vogelstein/Kinzler team’s cancer gene research is poised to change cancer medicine. They are developing tests that find cancer DNA in a small sample of blood or bodily fluids and can be used to detect cancer, personalize therapies to combat the unique genetic alterations within a tumor, and to monitor cancers’ response to treatment. Perhaps the greatest promise will be realized through prevention and the ability to intervene and change the fate of cancer cells before they can cause harm.
We at this great institution have a common goal. Cancer is among the most complex of diseases, and the discoveries of the Vogelstein/Kinzler team are nothing short of amazing. This example of ingenuity and progress in the face of what often seemed like insurmountable odds is why Ludwig Cancer Research and other donors invest in Johns Hopkins. The Ludwig commitment and our leadership’s willingness and desire to apply what we have learned here to improve the health and well-being of humans has brought us to this historical moment in time, where we can begin to alter the course of cancer in ways we could only imagine before.
William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.
Marion I. Knott Professor and Director
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins