Research conference kicks off in Austin

Published 10:34 am Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More than 150 researches are attending the Hormel Institute’s joint conference this week at Holiday Inn of Austin.

The event combines the third Hormel Institute symposium “Frontiers in Cancer Research” and the eighth international Skin Carcinogenesis Conference.

Dr. Allan Conney, Rutgers University research scientist and professor at the Pisctaway, N.J. school, made his presentation Saturday on the opening day of the joint conference.

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“The subject was it’s better to prevent cancer than to have to treat it,” Conney said.

The Rutgers professor said progress is being made in cancer research and, “It’s showing up at the conference.”“There’s a lot of progress being made all over,” he said.

“We’re better understanding the causes of cancer and figuring out better ways of preventing it.”

The international conference brings some of the best research minds from around the world to Austin this week.

The researchers present their work and interact with each other. From that, Conney said, “Collaborations are sprouting from all of us getting together and the work that each of us is doing is helping the others.”

The conference comes on the heels of the dedication of a $23.4-million expansion and renovation project at Hormel Institute.

The research facility’s image begin rising when Dr. Zigang Dong became the director.

Dong was able to attract some of the world’s finest research scientists, and both Dong and the researchers attracted grants to support their important work.

Conney mentioned the “Dong influence” in an interview Monday.

“The Hormel Institute is a wonderful research institute put together by Dr. Dong and it’s going to be doing more great things,” he said.

The Rutgers University professor has been researching cancer for more than 50 years.

“I think we have two goals,” Conney said. “We have a short-term goal and we have a long-term goal as researchers.”

“The short-term goal is to close down all the cancer hospitals world-wide and put ourselves out of business, including the Hormel Institute” he said.

“I think Dr. Dong would be happy to do that and then to go to work on something else.”

“The long-term goal is that future generations will ask ‘What is cancer?,’ ” he continued.

“That’s been done with polio,” Conney said. “When I was growing up, the polio epidemic was a very serious problem.”

A debate ranged in America over how much money was needed to be put into making badly-needed iron lungs or into basic research into the cause of the disease.

“That basic research resulted in the discovery of a vaccine that prevents all polio,” he said. “There is no more polio in the United States and in the world there are very few cases.”

“That’s an example of how basic research had a really important impact in eliminating a disease,” Conney said, “We’d like to do that to cancer, too.”

Dr. Dong was in and out of the sessions Monday, talking to colleagues and the media.

He was co-chair of the joint conference.

International flavor

It was the first time so many eminent researchers visited Austin; people such as Nicola McCarthy and Cao Ya.

The pair epitomized the international flavor of the attendees.

McCarthy, chief editor of the National Review Cancer magazine is from London, UK.

Ya is a professor at Xiangya School of Medicine, Central South University, Hunan, China.

Ya, who is a good friend of Dong’s, came to the United States in 1985 as a research scientist. She has worked for the National Cancer Institute in the United States.

She has commuted from research laboratories in China and the United States.

Now, her major research focus is skin (specifically, nosopharyngel) carcinoma.

She agreed with Conney that cancer researchers are, indeed, making progress.

“I think from this great conference we will come to know each other better and all of us can share our information and good ideas,” she said. “With the Internet today, we are a global village and we can collaborate and share our research all over the world.”

Ya is also mayor of a Chinese city with more than 3,000 years of history and six million people.

Her top priority as major: Development.

“We are seeing many people move from the countryside into the city,” she said. “We need to provide a good education, find them jobs and provide the other necessities of life.”

McCarthy was making her first trip to the United States for the joint conference.

She worked with Dr. Dong and the Institute’s Dr. Ann M. Bode on articles they published on their research in the National Review Cancer.

A medical researcher herself, as well as editor of the pre-eminent magazine on cancer research, McCarthy also said she believes the attention to basic research is paying off.

“People are starting to look more seriously at how their science can translate into future treatment and I think that is a good thing,” McCarthy said.

“With the new technologies we now have we’re getting much more information on the specific cancer types,” she said. “I think that is important because we can start treating patients more specifically for their disease.”

The joint conference concludes today.

Among the final day’s presenters will be Ivana Vucenik of the American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, D.C. and Ron Lubet of the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD.