What I Learned from AACR Annual Meeting 2022 (Part 2)

I always attended as many technical presentations as possible, like engineering conferences from my previous career or cancer conferences. This time with AACR Annual Meeting 2022, it was not exceptional, from targeted therapy to immunotherapy, from lung cancer to general cancer, and from tissue biopsy to liquid biopsy. Recently, I was interested in the topic of survivorship and advocacy.

Here I wrote down some points that intrigued me and sparked some "aha moments."

Past president’s remarks

Dr. David A Tuveson is the past President of AACR. In the Opening Session of the ScientistSurvivor Program, he made several remarks to the Patient Research Advocates (PRAs). One of them was that he encouraged us to be bolder in advocacy for the government. He gave two examples.

One was that initially, he wanted to work on curing AIDS because he had seen so many people dying from the disease in the 80s. However, as he was about to start his medicine residency, there were no AIDS patients anymore. Dr. Tuveson said that people raised funding and awareness, and finally, the government put budgets to support AIDS research. AIDS was from a death sentence to a chronic disease within ten years.

Dr. Tuveson further said that it only took two years to develop the mRNA vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic when the governments put the funding and effort together. In the end, Dr. Tuveson encouraged, even pleaded, the cancer patients to advocate for the government, especially in response to the Cancer Moonshot Program. This is the most significant "aha moment" for me.

How can patients drive research?

Dr. Tuveson's remarks echoed with me. I'm pretty familiar with the stigma of AIDS in the '80s and '90s, and AIDS patients struggling with the disease from the movies and literature. Although I was young at the time, I was deeply moved by the fundraising of Hollywood celebrities. And following it, the government started to fund research to cure AIDS. For the first time, I realized that raising awareness and supporting AIDS research could begin with patients and stakeholders ahead of the government.

Maybe because stories of curing AIDS moved me, Dr. Tuveson's remarks were an "aha moment" to me. When I started cancer advocacy, I felt that the cancer patients were too timid to ask the governments to fund cancer research. Compared with the stories that AIDS patients were cured or inhabited after only 20 years and that COVID-19 vaccines were invented only two years later, why couldn't cancer patients do the same thing? We ought to be more aggressive in urging the government to support cancer research.

Other remarks that left an impression

In Cancer Mini-Med School, Dr. Carolyn Campton gave us a lecture about cancer biology. During the course, she mentioned that smoking tobacco causes 16 types of cancer. I was shocked that among the 16 types of cancer, only lung cancer patients face the smoking stigma, and I'm not surprised that the government funding for lung cancer research is much lower than breast cancer, prostates cancer, and colorectal cancer, respectively.1 So it's another "aha moment" for me. I’m more determined to change the smoking stigma for lung cancer.

From AACR Annual Meeting, I also learned that lung cancer research could learn from other types of cancer. For example, in one of the talks, the presenter told us a story. Once, she said to one of her patients with advanced breast cancer that she was cured and she should celebrate. However, the patient asked why she still had to take the drug if she was cured? I have this very question because the doctors told us that we could never stop targeted therapy. I suspect that it's due to the fear of the occurrence of cancer. So this presenter with her colleagues started the research to explore the possibility of stopping the targeted therapy drug when breast cancer patients were cured. This is another "aha moment" for me.

Afterthought

Through AACR Annual Meeting 2022, I have had several "aha moments." In addition, the majority of scientific papers at the AACR Annual Meeting are fundamental research compared with other conferences, like ASCO Annual Meeting or World Lung Cancer Conference. At AACR Annual Meeting, I noticed that there were more speculations or anticipation about where the study would end up, i.e., the researchers could use their imagination "scientifically" for future cancer treatment. It's exhilarating. The future of cancer research is promising. For cancer patients, this is what HOPE is like.

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