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NCI Hosts Poster Session for Would-Be Conference Goers

By Jennifer Michalowski

On Apr. 2, worldwide concern about an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto prompted the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) to cancel its annual meeting in that city, scheduled to begin just 3 days later. Of the 16,000 expected attendees, about 500 were from the National Cancer Institute.

While AACR promised registrants that the meeting would be rescheduled for later in the year, NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach thought it was important that researchers have a more immediate opportunity to present their data to their peers. "We wanted to be sure to maintain the momentum stimulated by AACR," he commented. "We thought an NCI poster session would be the best way to keep scientific interactions and potential collaborations moving forward."

To that end, he invited all those who had planned to attend the meeting to present their data at a rapidly organized poster session staged in the Clinical Center on Apr. 7. Space was made available for 200 posters.

Many NCI scientists took advantage of the opportunity to share with their NIH colleagues posters originally intended for the AACR meeting. "The turn-out was pretty good, even though it was short notice," observed Dr. Chad Ellis, a fellow in the Cell and Cancer Biology Branch, whose poster described a novel family of Ras-like proteins that inhibit cell growth.

Like many participants, he was particularly pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss his work with von Eschenbach, who attended the session and took time to speak with each presenter.

The highly visible location in the CC exhibit hall encouraged passersby from NCI and other institutes to stop and talk with presenters. Attendees said the smaller session fostered conversations that might not have occurred at the large AACR meeting.

"It was nice to have it within NCI," observed Arpita Mehta, a Tufts University medical student who is spending a year at NCI's Clinical Proteomics Program as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Research Cloister Program. "You can set up potential collaborations knowing the person is going to be right there." Mehta's work focuses on designing specific combinations of drugs and drug doses to individualize cancer treatment for each patient.

"Many people I've never met before offered suggestions and asked questions about my work," said Dr. Claudia Palena, a Fogarty visiting fellow in the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology. Her poster described in vitro experiments testing whether B-cells infected with vectors expressing multiple costimulatory molecules can be used as antigen presenting cells for cancer vaccines, rather than the more commonly used dendritic cells, which she says are difficult to isolate and grow in culture.

Dr. James Gulley, co-director of the clinical trials group in the Laboratory of Tumor Immunology and Biology, presented preliminary results of a phase II trial for localized prostate cancer treatment, comparing radiation to radiation in combination with a new prostate cancer vaccine; the trial evaluated safety, immune response and recurrence of disease. "I was right in the thick of things; traffic at the poster was very good," he noted. "I think the hit rate at the AACR might have been lower, because of the overwhelming number of competing posters and oral presentations."

AACR has since announced that its annual meeting has been rescheduled for July 11-14 at the new Washington Convention Center. Many of those who attended the NCI poster session are looking forward to sharing their work with the international community of scientists that will come to D.C. for the event.

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