The news from Washington, D.C., in the last few months has not been good for cancer researchers. Between the sequester last spring and the partial shutdown of the federal government last week, the crisis for funding of biomedical research has become even more dire. Sadly, this comes at a time when the opportunity for clinically meaningful discoveries in cancer research is at its greatest.
At such a moment one might imagine that the choice to pursue a career as a clinician scientist would be uncertain and unattractive, leading potentially promising young investigators to consider other career paths. Fortunately, the chance to do great science which could translate into great medicine remains a draw for some of our newest oncologists and we are grateful that several organizations make it a priority to provide critical support to help young investigators initiate a successful research career.
In the last two weeks, two of our own physician-scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) have received the happy news that they will be recipients of such career development funding. Kurt Weiss, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedic surgery, will receive a highly competitive K08 grant from the National Institutes of Health to jumpstart his career as a translational scientist working in sarcoma research. This 5-year grant will help him to carve out time from a demanding clinical schedule to establish a vibrant laboratory program in this rare cancer type with unmet needs.
Timothy Burns, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine, learned he will receive two years of financial support as a V Foundation Scholar. Now in its 20th year, the V Foundation was founded by North Carolina State University men's basketball coach, Jimmy Valvano - known as Coach V - as a mechanism to support new cancer scientists and facilitate translational cancer research in academic settings. Established by Coach V just months before he succumbed to lung cancer, the V Foundation has a track record of picking “winners.” Among our previous recipients at the University of Pittsburgh are former V Scholars Lin Zhang, Ph.D, associate professor of pharmacology and chemical biology, and Yong Wan, Ph.D., associate professor of cell biology, attesting to the power of such an award to help to establish a career. Coincidentally, Dr. Burns is devoting his research career to the study of non-small cell lung cancer, the disease that is still the biggest killer among cancers for both men and women.
Drs. Weiss and Burns are two in a long line of young scientists who have come to UPCI to join the fight against cancer. These prestigious grants attest to their worth as scholars and underscore the supportive environment for development of inquisitive scientists here at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter. Their willingness to enter into this fray at a time of heightened scientific opportunity and diminished resources is a sign of their great determination to make a difference. No doubt Coach V was thinking of them (and the many others that they join) in his famous speech where he coined the motto of the V Foundation - “Don't give up. Don't ever give up.” These are words that we at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter live by every day as we work to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients.