OCT 16, 2013 10:00 AM PDT

Keynote: Is Personalized (Molecularly-Based) Medicine our Best Hope to Finally Defeat Cancer?

  • Co-Director, Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative, Director, Transformative Healthcare Networks, Professor, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University (ASU)
      Co-Director of Complex Adaptive Systems at ASU, Dr. Barker designs and implements transformative networks to enable the convergence of knowledge, innovative teams and novel funding approaches to address major problems in biomedicine. Several initiatives are underway, including: the National Biomarker Development Alliance NBDA; a program to re-think diseases that are particularly difficult to diagnose and treat; and a consortium focused on deep phenotyping in silico medicine. Prior to joining ASU, Dr. Barker served for several years as Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Deputy Director for Strategic Scientific Initiatives. At the NCI she developed and led or co-led a number of transdisciplinary programs including the: The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA); Nanotechnology Alliance for Cancer; Clinical Proteomics Technologies Initiative for Cancer; and the Physical Sciences- Oncology Centers (PS-OCs). She co-chaired the NCI-FDA Interagency Task Force (IOTF) and was founding co-chair of the Cancer Steering Committee of the FNIH Biomarkers Consortium (FNIH-BC). Achievements from these groups included the exploratory IND (IOTF); and oversight of the design and implementation of the ISPY-2 Trial (FNIH-BC). She served as a research scientist and a senior executive at Battelle Memorial Institute for 18 years; and subsequently co-founded and served as the CEO of a public biotechnology company. Examples of her public service include: the National Coalition of Cancer Research; Partner and Member of the Board of Directors of C-Change; Chairperson, C-Change Cancer Research Team; Founding member, Department of Defense (DOD) Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) and Chairperson of the Integration Panel (IP); a number of roles for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), including the Board of Directors and chairperson, Science Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee; member of NCIs Board of Scientific Counselors, Division of Cancer Etiology; and Chairperson, NCI Cancer Center Support Review Study Section. Dr. Barker has received a number of awards for her efforts in science and advocacy for cancer research. Her research interests include complex adaptive systems science, biomarkers, experimental therapeutics and free-radical biochemistry in cancer etiology and treatment. Dr. Barker completed her M.A. and Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, where she trained in immunology and microbiology.


    The current paradigm of detecting established cancer (often too late) and treating routinely with cytotoxic drugs is beginning to change. Advanced technologies such as whole genome sequencing (WGS/NGS), nanotechnology, imaging, bioinformatics and the convergence of the biological and physical sciences portends a future where personalized cancer medicine will be possible maybe even routine. However, this paradigm shift will require that a number of technical and scientific challenges be met and overcome. For example, WGS/NGS is producing multidimensional genomic and phenotypic multi-dimensional data at an unprecedented rate. Large scale genomic efforts such as The Cancer Genome Atlas are already producing multi-dimensional data sets that are unmanageable in the hands of single investigators. Cancer is quickly becoming digital information which means that we already require trained computational scientists and sophisticated analytical tools both of which are in short supply. Moreover, cancer occurs in context, so it is increasingly critical that mechanistic understanding of genomic alterations consider the cellular architecture/microenvironment in which these changes are decoded. Obviously true understanding of pathway dysfunction must also be interpreted across scales. This genomics-driven data tsunami represents major challenges on multiple fronts data quality, robust experimental design(s), standards and analysis to name a few. The massive amount of data needed to appropriately evaluate even a single patient will require teams of scientists and clinicians and large broadly available high quality data sets. Capitalizing on these opportunities for progress will require biospecimen and technology standards and appropriately qualified biomarkers developed through and end-to-end approaches that range from discovery to regulatory review. Finally, fully leveraging the outputs from the molecular sciences to both understand and control metastatic cancer will require de-convoluting the complexity of the disease. The thinking and new ideas to confront this level of complexity will likely to come from physicists, mathematicians and engineers working closely with cancer researchers. So while molecularly based medicine may well be our best strategy to date to finally defeat cancer, it is far from certain that this goal will be easily achieved or comprehensive in scope for the very complex set of diseases we collectively label cancer.

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