Voices of Impact – Dr. George W. Sledge
George W. Sledge, MD, Indianapolis
“We are all part of the ‘Great Weave’ of breast cancer research, the chain of knowledge linking the past and the future.”
“Cancer will likely be cured at the water cooler, not the laboratory, when one researcher approaches another and asks ‘What are you working on?’”
“Komen’s role is not just at a funder of research, but as a convener of researchers.”
I have been involved with breast cancer research for over three decades now, and the most important lesson I have learned is that being a breast cancer researcher involves being a link in a chain, or perhaps (a somewhat broader metaphor), one thread in a very large weave.
I received my training in breast cancer from Dr. Bill McGuire at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Bill McGuire was one of the great breast cancer researchers of his day, an expert in estrogen receptor testing at a time when that was the cutting-edge technology transforming breast cancer care. Bill also was a founding father of the breast cancer biomarker field.
At a time when the field was concentrating on delivering ever-higher doses of ever-more complicated chemotherapy regimens, Bill taught me the importance of biology in breast cancer: biology was destiny for breast cancer patients, and changing their destiny involved first understanding and then altering breast cancer biology. It is a common view today, but at the time it was a new way of looking at breast cancer therapy.
Bill McGuire was one of the very first investigators to be funded by Komen, back in the early 1980’s when I was still a fellow. Komen has a track record of funding excellent investigators, a track record that stretched back decades. Today Komen funds great senior investigators (many of them our Komen Scholars) as well as many of the new and junior investigators who represent the future of breast cancer research: we are all part of the “Great Weave” of breast cancer research, the chain of knowledge linking the past and the future.
My own research has benefited from this “Great Weave.” I have had the good fortune, throughout my career, to benefit from the collaboration of large numbers of people who care passionately about the breast cancer problem. My research (particularly my cooperative group work) has relied on a veritable army of physicians, nurses, data managers, statisticians, and (most importantly of all) patients. Behind all of them, of course, stand the great organizations, both government and private, that fund the research.
The “Great Weave” is both intellectual (the knowledge we have obtained regarding the biology of breast cancer) and social (the army of researchers and patients). It stretches backward in time (my mentor Bill McGuire learned from his mentors) and forward (my trainees, such as Komen Scholar Kathy Miller and Komen Promise Award recipient Bryan Schneider, and my colleague Anna Maria Storniolo, director of the Komen Tissue Bank). It stretches around the world: we are an international community.
The public often views science as a lonely pursuit: the laboratory scientist laboring at a bench, Isaac Newton-like creatures operating in the lofty realms of pure thought in the Groves of Academe. What real-life researchers learn, early in their careers, is that science (and particularly medical science) is, to an impressive degree, a social construct. Great science is the product of the scientific marketplace, ideas bouncing off each other, being refined through interaction, being judged (literally) by committees of one’s peers. Cancer will likely be cured at the water cooler, not the laboratory, when one researcher approaches another and asks “what are you working on?”
Komen’s role is not just at a funder of research, but as a convener of researchers. We bring researchers together at our Scientific Advisory Board, at our Komen Scholars meeting, in our study sections that judge the merits of grants, and in the grant applications themselves (for instance, through the consortia that make up our Promise awards). We are an eminently social organization: we actively create the “Great Weave” of breast cancer research.
And that is why I love working with Komen for the Cure.
About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen for the Cure is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.