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AACR 2018 Show Preview: Driving innovative cancer science to patient care
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
AACR Annual Meeting 2018
April 14-18, 2018
McCormick Place North/South
Chicago, Illinois
Driving innovative cancer science to patient care
AACR Annual Meeting 2018 prepares for Chicago and another round of extensive programming and networking around oncology research
By Jeffrey Bouley
It’s not as if science ever really stops being active; to be honest, it often seems more like it doesn’t know how to slow down. And one of the areas where that seems to be the case more than most is in cancer research. Not surprising, really, when one considers how ubiquitous and intractable a health problem it has been for so long.
As much of a scourge as cancer remains worldwide, the ability to fight back against tumors has vastly improved, and new strategies have been emerging with much gusto and sometimes great speed in recent years.
A chance to get a good look into the work of oncology research presents itself once again this year thanks to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), which will hold its AACR Annual Meeting 2018 from April 14 to 18 at McCormick Place North/South in Chicago.
And, as AACR notes on its meeting website, “Since the last annual meeting, we have witnessed another dramatic wave of progress against cancer, from exciting basic science findings, to new drug approvals, expanded use of genomic data for precision medicine and a greater focus on “big data” to accelerate progress in cancer research and in the clinic. Scientists are harnessing the power of mathematics, engineering and artificial intelligence to diagnose cancer at an earlier stage. They are also concentrating their efforts on cancer in minorities and the medically underserved, working to eliminate the persistent disparities in cancer outcomes.”
The theme for the meeting, “Driving Innovative Cancer Science to Patient Care,” reflects all of this and, as AACR notes, “As we wind down our 110th anniversary year, this theme is a powerful reminder that at the heart of every scientific advance is a patient in urgent need of a cure.”
Presentations at the meeting will cover the latest basic, translational, clinical and prevention-focused research in the field, including important areas such as early detection, cancer interception and survivorship in all populations. AACR will feature new sessions on cancer health disparities that have been inspired by one of the association’s presidential initiatives, and AACR will be bringing back a popular new feature from last year's meeting—“Unsolved Mysteries”—which features provocative questions and their in-depth discussion by speakers and members of the audience.
For more about the upcoming AACR 2018 meeting, DDNews spoke to AACR Annual Meeting Program Committee Chair Dr. Elaine R. Mardis, who is co-executive director of the Institute for Genomic Medicine and professor of pediatrics at ​Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
DDNews: What’s new this year or altered? What was the rationale/reason and what is the benefit?
Dr. Elaine R. Mardis: In principle, content is altered year-to-year because we want to reflect the newest breakthroughs in basic cancer and translational/clinical cancer research. This year, we generally are reflecting the impact of technology on cancer science. We have specific areas of focus on 1) “convergence,” which basically refers to the application of computational, mathematical, engineering and physics-based methodologies to cancer research; 2) survivorship as an emerging discipline in cancer medicine; 3) basic cancer science and clinical trials results for the newest types of immunotherapies and other targeted therapies; and 4) liquid biopsy applications and results.
The reasoning behind these broad-based content aspects is that they reflect emergent areas in cancer research and translational medicine today that are (importantly) pertinent to our attendees’ interests. As such, attendees benefit from learning about new developments, with an opportunity to explore areas of basic and applied cancer research that may be outside of their typical interest areas, if desired. Given the breadth and types of cancer studies and cancer medicine these days, it is really difficult to achieve content that absolutely is inclusive, but we certainly do try.
Regarding specific sessions, one new offering this year is a panel discussion of survivorship that is meant to elucidate this emerging discipline in cancer medicine, and to inform attendees about the importance of survivorship-based research and clinical practice. Also, although cancer health disparities is a topic that is carried throughout the meeting, four sessions focus solely on aspects of this issue in a new session type, “Recent Advances in Cancer Health Disparities Research.”
DDNews: What sessions, offerings, events, etc. would you recommend in particular for our readers, those researching in the discovery through trials pipeline or doing diagnostic R&D?
Mardis: These areas are being covered in the plenary sessions offered each day of the meeting, and in the “Meet-the-Expert” sessions that focus on individuals with specific expertise in a broad range of areas including cancer discovery, therapeutics and clinical trials, and diagnostics.
Two “New Drugs on the Horizon” sessions will be held on Sunday. The Wednesday plenary session offers a set of speakers whose focus is on basic and applied genomics in the diagnostic and prognostic realm, for example.
We also have science and policy panel discussions that explore the health economics of targeted therapies, the development of standards for next-generation sequencing-based research and various aspects of survivorship, among other topics. There are forums where topics like the efficacy and impact of targeted therapies, the right biomarkers of response to checkpoint blockade therapies and other therapy-related aspects of cancer medicine are being debated between two experts. We also have sessions that focus on the chemistry of drug development, and of course we have clinical trials results being presented—the largest number of these trials ever submitted to the AACR Annual Meeting—some of which are from Phase 3 trials.
DDNews: What are some other highlights of the annual meeting and why would you single them out?
Mardis: The AACR presents awards each year to outstanding cancer researchers and clinicians who are luminaries in their field of endeavor. These award lectures are especially important to younger researchers because they provide insights into remarkable careers that are inspirational.
For example, Dr. Jennifer Doudna from UC Berkeley, who was instrumental in the development of CRISPR-based genome editing, will be giving the AACR-Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lecture on Sunday, April 15. For younger researchers, we have “Networking Hubs” that provide opportunities to meet others and discuss career aspirations, research and plans, as well as the “Meet-the-Expert” sessions I mentioned earlier. Both of these offer important opportunities to learn and to build scientific relationships.
I also want to mention the educational pre-meeting offerings, which take place all day on Saturday, April 14. This is a full day of educational sessions and methods workshops that are meant to educate and inform our attendees in areas complementary to our annual meeting content, and provide valuable pre-meeting educational context to those who are hoping to expand their knowledge in specific areas of basic and translational research.
We also have our AACR Runners for Research 5K Run/Walk event so people can exercise their bodies as well as their minds while at the Annual Meeting.
We have three sessions on “Unsolved Mysteries” returning from last year that I think will be interesting. Finally, and because this is such a content-rich meeting, I hope attendees can stay for the wrap-up plenary session on Wednesday afternoon, which will highlight the basic and translational science of this year’s meeting and take a look toward what we will learn about in 2019 at the AACR Annual Meeting.

Educational Sessions
Saturday, April 14, 2018
  • Advances in Cancer Vaccines
  • Autoimmunity Meets Tumor Immunity on the Road to Nucleic Acids Sensing
  • Autophagy in Cancer Therapy
  • Basket Trials for Precision Oncology
  • Big Data, Deep Learning, and AI Methods for Cancer Analysis
  • Biosimilars in Oncology: Key Topics of Interest
  • Cancer Evolution: Biologic and Clinical Significance of Intratumoral Heterogeneity
  • Cancer Genomics to Targeted Therapies in Thyroid Cancer
  • Cancer Immunology for Nonimmunologists
  • Cancer Immunology for Nonimmunologists: Roundtable Discussions
  • Cancer Prevention and Screening in LMIC
  • Common Statistical Errors and Mistakes in Cancer Research: How to Avoid Them
  • Computational Methods and Resources for Immunogenomics and Immune Therapy
  • Computational Methods for Cancer Genomics Research
  • Convergence of Theoretical Physics Approaches to Cancer
  • Co-stimulation and Co-inhibition in T Cell-Mediated Immunity
  • Development of Brain Penetrant Inhibitors: From Genomics to the Clinic
  • From Chemistry to the Clinic: Part 1 - Chemical Probes for Identifying and Validating Drug Targets
  • From Chemistry to the Clinic: Part 2 - Lead Optimization in Cancer Drug Discovery and Development, Multifactorial Optimization from Early Hits to Drug Candidates
  • From Chemistry to the Clinic: Part 3 - Approaches to Drug Design for Neuro-oncology
  • Frontiers in Personalized Immunotherapy of Hematologic Malignancies
  • Genetic, Epigenetic, and Cellular Context Driving Pediatric Brain
  • Hijacking the Epigenome in Cancer: Challenges and Opportunities
  • Impact of the Microbiome in Cancer Immunity
  • Metabolic Landscapes and Reprogramming for Cancer Therapy
  • Methods for Translational Research to Address Cancer Health Disparities
  • Modeling Tumor Suppression in the Mouse
  • New Developments in the Treatment of Metastatic Colorectal Cancer
  • New Insights into the Biology and Treatment of Virus-Associated Malignancies
  • NGS Methods for Tumor Detection and Response Prediction
  • No More “Triple-Negative Breast Cancer”: Molecular Classification and Personalized Therapy
  • Novel Methods to Dissect the Genome and the Epigenome
  • The Obesity Paradox and Cancer
  • Old and New Puzzles in the Genetic Epidemiology of Cancer
  • Opportunities in Drugging Protein-Protein Interactions Using Inhibitors and Degraders
  • Pancreatic Cancer Prevention
  • Predictors and Mechanisms of Success or Failure of Immunotherapy
  • Quantitative Methods for Characterization of Tumor Evolution
  • Recent Advances and Opportunities in Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) Research
  • Response and Resistance to CDK4/6 Inhibitors in Breast Cancer
  • Rethinking Immunotherapeutic Approaches to Pediatric Solid Malignancies
  • Revisiting Vitamin C as an Epigenetic Therapeutic
  • RNA Metabolism in Cancer
  • Single-Cell Analysis of the Cancer Epigenome and Transcriptome
  • Translational Control of Cancer
  • The Use and Abuse of Chemical Probes: Ensuring Best Practice for Interrogating Biology and Target Validation
  • What Can We Learn about Cancer by Combining Germline and Somatic Data?
Methods Workshops
Saturday, April 14, 2018
  • Advances in Patient-Derived Xenograft Modeling in Cancer
  • Assessing the T Cell Repertoire in Clinical Trials
  • Cancer Modeling in the CRISPR Age
  • Characterizing the PreCancer Genome: Identification of Early Drivers
  • Clinical Trial Design Part 1: Dose-Finding
  • Clinical Trial Design Part 2: Clinical Trial Design for Targeted Therapies
  • Clinical Trial Design Part 3: Trials Utilizing Combination Therapies
  • Knowledgebases for Precision Medicine: Variant Interpretation and Clinical Trial Matching
  • Liquid Biopsy Meets Cancer Epigenomics
  • Methods of Evaluation of Immunologic Landscape of Tumors
  • Multiplex Imaging of Tumor Tissues: Techniques and Data Analysis
  • NCI’s UH2/UH3 Novel Assay Development Program
  • Oncology Biomarker Detection, Characterization, and Quantification by Mass Spectrometry
  • Tracking Tumor Metabolism in Action

NextGen Stars
The NextGen Stars program provides an opportunity to increase the visibility of early-career scientists at the AACR Annual Meeting and to support the professional development and advancement of those selected to speak. Eight NextGen Stars will present their work in major sessions at the AACR Annual Meeting 2018. Selections were made through a competitive application process that was limited to AACR associate members and AACR active members who were at the junior faculty level (not higher than assistant professor or equivalent).
Samuel F. Bakhoum, M.D., Ph.D.
Holman Research Fellow, Department of Radiation Oncology
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine, New York
Stacey D. Finley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Michael E. Fraser, Ph.D.
Director, Prostate Cancer Research
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Yejing Ge, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology & Development
The Rockefeller University, New York
Willy Hugo, Ph.D.
Adjunct Assistant Professor
University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Ciara Metcalfe, Ph.D.
Scientist, Translational Oncology
Genentech, South San Francisco, California
Richard L. Possemato, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Pathology
NYU School of Medicine, New York
A. Hunter Shain, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Dermatology
University of California, San Francisco

AACR 2018 Cancer and Biomedical Research Career Fair
Saturday, April 14, 2018
9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
AACR extends an invitation to all scientists to attend its 2018 Cancer and Biomedical Research Career Fair in Chicago on April 14. A special invitation is extended to mid-career scientists to join AACR at this premier recruiting event. Recruiters from academia, government and the pharmaceutical industry will be available to meet with individual scientists throughout the fair.

Professional and Career Advancement Sessions
Professional Advancement Sessions are organized to provide important skills to investigators at all levels, from high school students to senior faculty.
Meet the Research Icon Sessions
Organized by the Associate Member Council (AMC)
See the Online Itinerary Planner for dates and times
These sessions are intended for early-career scientists and provide a special opportunity for young investigators to meet esteemed researchers in a small group setting to discuss their specific career paths and visions for the future of cancer research. Sessions take place in the Associate Member Resource and Career Center in AACRcentral.
Career Discussions
Organized by the Associate Member Council (AMC)
See the Online Itinerary Planner for dates and times
These informal networking and discussion sessions are designed for early-career scientists to interact with junior faculty and physician-scientists. Sessions take place in the Associate Member Resource and Career Center in AACRcentral.
Personalized Career Conversations
Co-sponsored by the Associate Member Council (AMC), Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR) and Women in Cancer Research (WICR)
Saturday, April 16, 2018; 3:30-5:00 p.m.
This session provides a unique opportunity for early-career AACR Associate Members to be paired with distinguished cancer researchers for one-on-one conversations. There is no cost to participate in this session, but preregistration is required. Preregistration and a list of this year’s participating senior scientists will be available shortly (March 2018).
10th Annual Careers in Clinical and Translational Cancer Research Roundtable
Organized by the Clinical and Translational Cancer Research Committee
Saturday, April 14, 2018
This annual session will include a series of presentations by recognized leaders in clinical and translational cancer research, followed by informal roundtable discussions. Participating senior investigators will provide attendees with personal perspectives with regards to their own career paths in an effort to help direct aspiring clinical and translational caner researchers on successful career paths.
Navigating the Road to a Successful Career in Cancer Research
Organized by the Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR) Council
Monday, April 16, 2018; 6:30-8:30 p.m.
This session provides a forum in which students, postdoctoral candidates and junior faculty can discuss career development issues with established senior scientists. This session includes a networking reception and mentored roundtable discussions facilitated by senior researchers representing all sectors of the cancer community, including academia, government and industry.
WICR Professional Advancement Session
Organized by the Women in Cancer Research (WICR) Council
Saturday, April 14, 2018; 1-3 p.m.
The WICR Professional Advancement Session provides a forum for investigators to acquire skills and techniques to enhance their careers. Participants are led by role models and through guided exercises that enable them to learn key concepts. Past topics have included: Intentional Yes and Graceful No: How to Take Charge of Your Career, Thriving in an Extroverted World, The Power of Assertiveness, The Art of Engaging in a Successful Interview, and Building Presence and Leadership through Empowered Communication.
WICR Career Mentoring Session
Organized by the Women in Cancer Research (WICR) Council
Monday, April 16, 2018; 8:15-10:15 a.m.
Following a keynote address, attendees will have the opportunity to meet, network and learn from many of the leading senior scientists in cancer research during roundtable discussions. Topics of discussion will include work-life integration, careers in industry, choosing a postdoctoral position, oral presentations and more.
The Critical Role of Physician-Scientists in Advancing Cancer Science: Suggestions for Continued Success
Professional Advancement Session
Organized by the AACR Science Education and Career Advancement Committee
Friday, April 13, 2018; 5:30-7 p.m.
Physician-scientists serve several crucial roles by relating scientific discoveries in cancer to the clinical care of patients and/or the health of populations, and vice-versa. In these roles, physician-scientists contribute to the advancement of cancer science through research, clinical care, education/mentoring and/or administrative leadership across the course of their careers. Often they serve at crucial translational interfaces between scientific discoveries that develop into newly approved devices, drugs or guidelines to benefit patients. Additionally, physician-scientists often serve as interpreters or translators to describe the relevance, importance and impact of science and scientific discoveries to patients and the broader public.
As grant funding opportunities narrow, physician-scientists’ competitiveness versus “scientifically focused” colleagues can be threatened. Similarly, as fiscal margins associated with cancer care come under greater pressure due to numerous internal and external forces (e.g., narrowing insurance networks, rising costs of cancer care, growing use of EHRs), physician-scientists come under increasing pressure to care for larger numbers of patients of greater complexity, often placing additional restrictions on time.
This session will explore the critical role of physician-scientists and strategies for their continued success in the face of increasing competitiveness in all domains of their professional service – scientific, clinical, educational and administrative.
13th Annual Undergraduate Student Caucus and Poster Competition
Professional Advancement Session
Organized by the AACR Science Education and Career Advancement Committee
Saturday, April 14, 2018; 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
With over 200 undergraduate student participants every year, the Undergraduate Student Caucus Poster Competition continues to be the premier event for undergraduate students attending the AACR Annual Meeting. Now in its thirteenth year, this session gives undergraduates the opportunity to learn more about current research in the cancer field, hear from investigators about educational pathways and career development, explore career options in the cancer field and compete for monetary prizes while presenting research. Undergraduates at all levels as well as post-baccalaureate students are welcome to participate without cost. AACR members are encouraged to volunteer as judges.
Meet the Mentor: Undergraduate Focus I and II
Organized by the AACR Career Development Committee
Sunday, April 15, 2018, 3:45-4:45 p.m.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018; 2:30-3:30 p.m.
These sessions feature esteemed senior scientists who will engage undergraduate students in informal discussions about cancer research. Sessions are intended to help guide students in their educational pursuit of establishing a career in cancer research. All undergraduate student attendees at the Annual Meeting are encouraged to participate.
Special Program for High School Students: The Conquest of Cancer and the Next Generation of Cancer Researchers
Organized by the AACR Career Development Committee
Tuesday, April 17, 2018; 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
This interactive program is designed to inspire students to pursue careers in cancer research and biomedical sciences by providing an opportunity for students to learn about cancer from cancer research experts while interacting with their peers. The program includes lectures, tours of the exhibits and poster areas, student presentations and a networking lunch. AACR members are encouraged to volunteer as judges.

Exhibit Hall
​Sunday, April 15
​1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Monday, April 16
​9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tuesday, April 17
​9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wednesday, April 18
​9 a.m. to Noon

Future Annual Meetings
March 30-April 3, 2019
Atlanta, Georgia
April 25-29, 2020
San Diego, California
April 10-14, 2021
Washington, D.C.
April 9-13, 2022
New Orleans, Louisiana

 Other Upcoming AACR Meetings
 Targeting DNA Methylation
 Cancer Dormancy and Residual Disease
 Advances in Malignant Lymphoma
 JCA-AACR Special Joint Conference
 Pancreatic Cancer
 Intestinal Stem Cells and Colon Cancer
 Translational Cancer Medicine
 View All AACR Meetings and Workshops

AACR News: Chi Van Dang named as editor-in-chief of Cancer Research
PHILADELPHIA—The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in January announced the appointment of Dr. Chi Van Dang as editor-in-chief of its journal Cancer Research. Published under different titles in its early years, Cancer Research was the first English-language journal to be published in the field of oncology and is arguably the most influential cancer research journal in the world today, according to AACR.
Dang is the scientific director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, an international, not-for-profit organization of distinguished scientists dedicated to preventing and controlling cancer. He is also a professor in the Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program at The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.
“Dr. Dang is a prominent and highly regarded physician-scientist, and the American Association for Cancer Research is thrilled to welcome him in his role as editor-in-chief of Cancer Research,” said Dr. Margaret Foti, CEO of the AACR. “His extensive expertise as a cancer scientist and hematologic oncologist and his 20 years of clinical academic leadership experience at preeminent research institutions will further the success and impact of this important journal and accelerate the pace of progress against cancer.”
Cancer Research publishes original studies, reviews, and opinion pieces spanning the spectrum of cancer research. AACR says the semi-monthly journal has a stringent peer review process, accepting only those studies that are novel, timely, and of broad significance in the field.
“I am delighted to assume responsibility for this influential journal at a time when cancer research is providing hope that allows us to begin to use the word ‘cure’ without trepidation,” Dang said. “Together with the newly assembled editorial board, I look forward to promoting major scientific findings that embrace innovative research paradigms and team science.”
Dang is a pioneer in biomedical cancer research. His lab was the first to report a link between an oncogene and altered cancer cell metabolism through the discovery that the oncogenic transcription factor MYC plays a pivotal role in the re-programming of fuel utilization in cancer cells, making cancers addicted to certain fuel sources. Research in the Dang laboratory currently focuses on exploiting metabolic vulnerabilities of cancer cells for therapeutic benefit.
Dang received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; Ph.D. in chemistry from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; and his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore. He has published two books, numerous book chapters, and more than 250 scientific articles. Dang is also the recipient of numerous honors. He was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel of former Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Medicine (Institute of Medicine), and chair of the National Cancer Institute’s Board of Scientific Advisors.

AACR News: Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Innovation Science Grants
​PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has announced the launch of the AACR-Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Innovation Science Grants to stimulate research aimed at eradicating the devastating disease. This new funding opportunity, which is supported by the Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Initiative, is focused on “igniting scientific innovation and transformational advances against lung cancer.”
A total of $4.5 million will be made available in research funding in support of meritorious research projects. Three multi-institutional research teams that seek novel approaches to the prevention, interception and cure of lung cancer will each be awarded up to $1.5 million over a period of three years. The deadline for submission is Wednesday, May 2, at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Research projects will begin on July 1, 2018.
“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide, and more research is urgently needed if we are to markedly reduce incidence and mortality from this complex disease. These grants will identify innovative strategies to eliminate behaviors that increase lung cancer risk, devise new ways to intercept a lung cancer-causing process before lung cancer occurs, and develop effective treatments that offer the potential for a cure,” said Dr. Margaret Foti, CEO of the AACR.
Proposals submitted for this funding opportunity should consider the concepts that lung cancer is often caused by behaviors that lead to: chronic exposure to respiratory carcinogens that produce cellular/genomic damage; chronic inflammation; alterations in innate and adaptive immunity; and changes in the pulmonary microbiome. Consequently, these events may trigger the escape of transformed cells from immune surveillance. Proposals that characterize premalignant lesions or that substantially improve the detection of lung cancer at more curable stages will also be prioritized for funding.
Grant applications will be accepted from multi-institutional teams, composed of principal investigators from at least two, but no more than three, different institutions. Recipients will be notified by June.
Applications must be submitted using the proposalCENTRAL website. Further details are available online at the AACR website at Additional inquiries may be directed to the AACR’s Scientific Review and Grants Administration department, at
Code: E031840



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