Aaron Havas Conference Summary


Aaron Haavas
Ph.D. Candidate
Cancer Biology GIDP

 Conference Summary
Annual American Association of Cancer Research Conference
New Orleans, LO

April 16-20, 2016 The H.E. Carter travel award provided me the opportunity to attend the annual conference held by the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) in New Orleans, Lo April 16-20th 2016. I used this money to help pay for housing at an Airbnb in the garden district which was only 0.6 miles away from the conference center. The house served as a wonderful base of operations due to its quiet neighborhood and included Wi-Fi, which allowed for easy access to research on conference topics and also some much needed rest and relaxation after a long day of symposiums and poster sessions.  This year over 20,000 scientists, physicians, vendors and patient advocates attended AACR. This provided a very diverse group representing the most ground breaking perspectives and science to combat cancer.

Major themes at the conference were mostly centered on the use of CRISPR/Cas9 system, which is a revolutionary new technology that can be used to modify or delete genes in mammalian systems. Immunotherapy and immuno-modulating agents were also highly in vogue this year following recent advances in checkpoint modulating agents targeting PD-1, PD-L1 and CTLA4. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) modulated T-cells use in adaptive T-cell therapy was also a hot topic for AACR along with next generation epigenetic modulating drugs targeting Bromo-domain adhesion of transcription factors and lysine demethylase inhibitors.

One of the major benefits of attending large conferences like this one is that it affords a great deal of networking opportunities. During my trip I took advantage of a number of social events that were held by the AACR and also some vendors. The first night consisted of a social hour for new and young members of AACR. At this event I meet a number of other graduate students and post-docs and obtained some much needed tips for how to find a post-doctorial fellowship that will progress my career. The second day I gave my poster talk, titled “Combining low dose microtubule targeting agents with belinostat potentiates cytotoxic response in HDACi resistant diffuse large B-cell lymphoma”, which generated a lot of interest and resulted in my exchanging information with a number of fellow researchers. During my poster presentation, recruiters from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, MD Anderson, Fred Hutchinson research centers all gathered my information for potential post-doctorial positions and have each contacted me via email for follow-ups. On the last night I attended a social event thrown by the bio-tech company Bio-techne which was a river paddle boat trip up the Mississippi river. This was an amazing experience that allowed me to gain insight into what it would be like to work for a larger bio-tech company and provided me with further networking avenues.

AACR 2016 ended with a speech by vice president Joe Biden addressing his role and goals for the newly announced “moon shoot” initiative to cure cancer.  This initiative was announced during president Obama’s 2016 address to the nation in which president Obama challenged the nation’s scientists and physicians to cure cancer. This was following a $2.1 billion increase to the NIH’s annual budget, $1 billion promise to jumpstart the initiative and a promise to increase research budget over the next decade. The speech delivered by Vice president Biden to the AACR highlighted how cancer had personally affected his family with the loss of his son Bo to glioblastoma. Vice president Biden discussed: some of the major advancements in the field of cancer research, how he plans on increasing funding to cancer research, fund confirmative studies on previously published work, address major issues with how funding is applied for and a desire to fund more novel research. He reiterated a desire for the research community to foster more open dialogue within the field and with the public along with proposing a desire for the research data to be available more quickly and a need for more collaborative efforts. This talk was the prefect crescendo to end the AACR conference with by laying out major challenges and provided hope for the future.