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A Modern Approach to Cancer

Cancer Biology and Therapeutics program debuts

Modern Approach to Cancer

Image: Joshua Touster

Click here to apply Applications Due September 25th

By Elizabeth Cooney, OCER Staff Writer 

Harvard Medical School and the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, with a commitment from the Shenzhen-HMS Initiative in International Education in China, are working together to make history with a joint global initiative designed to disseminate knowledge of cancer biology, prevention and treatment.

A new 12-month program aimed at international clinicians and scientists who specialize in cancer, Cancer Biology and Therapeutics will break new ground as the first HMS global program to combine basic and applied science in a blended-learning format, providing insights from leading researchers, oncologists and therapeutic developers both online and in person.

“This collaborative initiative will benefit Qatar Biomedical Research Institute, the Shenzhen-HMS Initiative in International Education and Harvard Medical School through the exchange of ideas and will develop a regional and global network of future leaders in cancer research and treatment,” said Ajay Singh, HMS associate dean for global education and continuing education.

HMS-CBT, as the program is known, highlights the global nature of the HMS mission, said George Demetri, co-director of the Harvard Ludwig Center, HMS professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a co-director of HMS-CBT.

The deadline for applications is Sept. 25. Click here to apply.

“We are very focused on the terrific talent we’re pleased to have in the United States, but many brilliant people outside the United States are not able to come here for their training,” Demetri said.

“The more we can share the expanding body of knowledge about cancer biology and therapeutics with them, I think the better it will be for patients and for the field,” he said.

Combining the study of cancer biology with the study of cancer therapeutics is intentional and necessary, Demetri said.

“We have had an explosion in knowledge relating to cancer—the diversity of cancers, the fact that cancer is not one disease but probably thousands of different diseases that we can now parse very finely in the new world of precision cancer medicine,” he said.

“How do we develop therapeutics from that knowledge? How do we apply those therapeutics? That has so much depth and robustness we can address in this program,” Demetri added.

Emphasis on interactivity

Through a combination of three in-person, three-day workshops in cities on three continents—in Doha (Qatar), London and Boston—the program emphasizes interactivity between students and Harvard faculty and between groups of students who will organize themselves via internet-connected teams around projects and ideas.

The program, which begins Oct. 24 with a workshop in Doha, will be multi-faceted, reflecting both the evolving science of cancer and the interests of its students.  The first workshop will feature an introductory session on cancer biology, followed by sessions focused on links between infectious diseases, viruses and cancer.

The second workshop, starting March 18, 2016, in London, will focus on targeted therapies in cancer.

The third workshop and capstone event for the program, beginning Oct. 26, 2016, in Boston, will feature the latest developments in cancer immunotherapy, a dynamic field that is changing so rapidly that the organizers predict topics will evolve over the coming year.

Students will also be asked about what they are particularly interested in learning.


HMS-CBT program co-director Ed Harlow, the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research and Teaching in the HMS Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, is well known for Provocative Questions, a program he initiated in 2012 at the National Cancer Institute with former director Harold Varmus.  Harlow remains special assistant to the current NCI director.

Harlow hopes to spark the same impulse with students at the first HMS-CBT workshop by inviting them to ask questions for which there may not be one simple answer.

“This sounds interesting to me, this idea that an international group of scientists will be talking to one another about this project they’ve got to work on, and how they’ll do it across global time zones and cultures,” Harlow said.

Demetri calls this adaptable form of education “bespoke.” While a library of lectures from Harvard faculty is being assembled, webinars and interaction among students and with professors will supplement them, addressing the needs and interests of the students as they emerge. 

Peer-to-peer projects

The program directors are committed to interactivity, which they say will sprout at the workshops and flower during the year through peer-to-peer projects.

“The course will create opportunities for the students to network,” said Peter Howley, the Shattuck Professor of Pathological Anatomy in the HMS Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology and an HMS-CBT co-director.

“One could imagine wonderful and creative outcomes from such learning collaborations. The course faculty will give them assignments and will be around to help the students refine and work on them, but the actual learning is going to be among themselves,” he said.

In the process, the program directors will actively assess the course to learn what succeeds, and, along with the students, will work to build upon the experiences for future offerings of this course.

”We want to provide an educational experience that’s useful for all the participants,” Demetri said.

“It is really going to be an exciting year.”

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