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Zutter takes part in cancer strategy meet at White House

Feb. 4, 2016, 9:25 AM

Vanderbilt physician/scientist Mary Zutter, M.D., Louise B. McGavock Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and assistant vice chancellor for Integrative Diagnostics, can now add “White House guest” to her resume.

Mary Zutter, M.D.

Zutter joined a group of prominent cancer researchers for a recent meeting with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff to discuss the future of cancer research. The meeting came shortly before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address during which he tapped Biden to lead the nation’s efforts to develop cures for cancer.

“It was an exciting day. Biden’s staff began by saying ‘we’ve invited you here simply to listen,’” said Zutter, who also serves as co-leader of the Host-Tumor Interactions Research Program.

“The vice president wants to understand opportunities to advance cancer cures while he is in the White House and long-term. He wants this to be his legacy going forward.”

Biden’s son, Beau, 46, died last year from an aggressive form of brain cancer. The vice president recently declared that he was ready to launch a “moon shot in this country to cure cancer.”

Zutter, along with Mia Levy, M.D., Ph.D., Ingram Assistant Professor of Cancer Research and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) director of Cancer Health Information and Strategy, and Tom Stricker, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, had already been in Washington to discuss the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Project GENIE (Genomics, Evidence, Neoplasia, Information, Exchange). VICC is one of seven centers spearheading Project GENIE, an international data-sharing project to advance precision cancer care by gathering and linking genomic data with clinical outcomes from tens of thousands of cancer patients.

Zutter and 14 other AACR colleagues stayed in Washington to discuss the FDA’s interest in taking over regulation of next-generation DNA sequencing of tumors, and the companion diagnostic tests needed for use with targeted therapies. That meeting was abbreviated when the group received the invitation to the White House.

Zutter and her colleagues told Biden’s staff that scientists now understand cancer isn’t one disease with a single cause or cure.

“We recognize that each cancer is a rare disease — each tumor is different. The more information we have, the larger the patient population we can study, the more we’re going to understand,” Zutter explained. “So we encouraged Biden’s staff to support both financially and politically efforts like GENIE and to potentially make it a national effort.”

Zutter and other AACR leaders asked their Washington hosts “to encourage The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to reimburse genetic testing that allows the advance of precision medicine. These studies determine how a patient is treated.”

She also emphasized the need for federal funding of basic scientific research.
“Basic research funding has drastically diminished in the last four to five years. We need to continue to ask basic questions because that’s where huge new discoveries are made.”

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