May 1, 2024

UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center research shines on global stage

Dr. Robert Kimple in his lab

Innovation does not happen in a vacuum—the biggest breakthoughs in cancer treatment and prevention happen because of teamwork across disciplines and between multiple academic centers and research institutions.

“I daresay that nearly all of the really practice-changing studies are not done at a single institution,” said Dr. Randall Kimple, a radiation oncologist who co-leads UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center’s Imaging and Radiation Sciences program. “They’re done in cooperative groups and dozens or hundreds of institutions, including community practices coming together to enroll patients on clinical trials to help change how we care for people today.

To spark those collaborations, inspire new research ideas and share the latest research breakthroughs, Carbone Cancer Center’s researchers and clinicians attend multiple professional development conferences throughout the year. One of the largest such gatherings is the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, bringing together more than 40,000 scientists, clinicians, and other cancer-focused professionals to present research underway at their institutions, talk about evolving clinical best practices, and engage with peers both nationwide and globally.

“We go there, first and foremost, to make sure that we have the best and newest treatments for our patients, but I think we also go there because science is incremental and repetitive—there’s never really a scientific advance from a single study. It’s multiple studies showing similar findings,” said Dr. Noelle LoConte, a medical oncologist and Carbone’s Outreach Program leader.

This year, more than 35 of Carbone’s member scientists have co-authored abstracts and posters highlighting their research that will be featured at ASCO, including several members who will be presenting about their research work. Carbone’s featured research spans all major cancer types, as well as key survivorship and patient wellness topics.

Kimple said ASCO also brings together medical professionals in all specialty areas, such as radiation oncologists, surgeons, medical oncologists and patient advocates, which helps broaden the viewpoints and enriches the educational experience.

While some may think there is an edge of competitiveness with discovery, LoConte said cancer clinicians and scientists are happy to share in each other’s successes. The ultimate goal is to help more patients and “work ourselves out of a job.”

“I will never forget the first immunotherapy study that was presented (at ASCO), and I was around oncologists who started to cry,” LoConte said, referencing the class of cancer treatment that empowers a patient’s immune system to help fight cancer. “We are all universally excited when there’s a good advancement for our patients.”

Kimple and LoConte are also active with ASCO’s advocacy program, including meeting with members of Congress to talk about policy priorities and the need for robust funding for federal research grants. As physician-scientists, they share their perspectives of how research they’ve participated in has led to better outcomes for patients in the clinic.

“I think in many cases, the stories we share are the most impactful,” Kimple said. “We come armed with data because we’re scientists, but it’s really the storytelling, in the case of my patient with X where the research funding allowed us to do these things that led to a clinical trial that impacted patients, or that led to a business developing in our community that’s employing people who are paying taxes.”

“We want to make sure that the voice of the patient is heard,” LoConte added. “And a lot of our patients unfortunately can’t travel to D.C. because they don’t feel well enough, so I’m happy to be that voice.”