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Physical Sciences-Based Frontiers in Oncology: The Coding, Decoding, Transfer, and Translation of Information in Cancer

Overview | Meeting Objectives | Agenda | Readings

Overview

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This is the third in a series of NCI "think tanks" that bring together leaders from the physical sciences with basic and clinical cancer researchers to explore approaches that may contribute to solving intractable problems that we face in understanding and controlling cancer. Although the conversations in the first meeting identified a large number of potential research opportunities, four major themes emerged for further exploration as follows: the "physics" of cancer (e.g., forces and mechanics, thermodynamics, gradients, etc.); evolution and evolutionary theory in cancer; information coding, transfer translation, and information theory in cancer; and the complexity of cancer.

Overall the meeting goals were to:

  • Explore the concept of what "information" means in terms of the genetic code and its translation in cancer relative to context and certain specific aspects that characterize cancer.
  • From the perspective of both the physical and biological sciences, determine the "state of the science" of information and information theory in terms of understanding cancer at all scales.
  • Identify the major critical research questions in the state of the science of information and information sciences in cancer that could represent major areas for transdisciplinary research.
  • Determine where/how innovative research approaches in information/information theory might lead to the development of new cancer interventions.
  • Offer guidance on how the NCI can integrate areas from the physical sciences (physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, etc.) with cancer biology/oncology to enable the development of this field of study.

 

Meeting Objectives

This is the third in a series of NCI "think tanks" that bring together leaders from the physical sciences with basic and clinical cancer researchers to explore approaches that may contribute to solving intractable problems that we face in understanding and controlling cancer. Although the conversations in the first meeting identified a large number of potential research opportunities, four major themes emerged for further exploration as follows: the "physics" of cancer (e.g., forces and mechanics, thermodynamics, gradients, etc.); evolution and evolutionary theory in cancer; information coding, transfer translation, and information theory in cancer; and the complexity of cancer.

The second meeting in this series focused on "A New Look at Evolution and Evolutionary Theory in Cancer." This meeting identified a number of the major research questions in the field and elaborated a number of "grand challenges" that, if met, would significantly improve our understanding of the role of evolution in cancer. Underlying many of the conversations at this think tank were questions on the role of information and information theory in cancer, specifically those changes that confer selective advantages. Overall it was clear that a great deal of knowledge is needed to elucidate the role of information flow at all scales in understanding the emergence of the malignant phenotype.

Although this think tank will focus on the coding, decoding, flow, and translation of information in cancer, our conversations will by necessity reflect in an integrative way all four of the themes that derived from the first meeting. Our overall goal for this meeting is to better define and understand this complex field relative to its potential role in understanding and controlling cancer. Overall we plan to:

  • Explore the concept of what "information" means in terms of the genetic code and its translation in cancer relative to context and certain specific aspects that characterize cancer.
  • From the perspective of both the physical and biological sciences, determine the "state of the science" of information and information theory in terms of understanding cancer at all scales.
  • Identify the major critical research questions in the state of the science of information and information sciences in cancer that could represent major areas for transdisciplinary research.
  • Determine where/how innovative research approaches in information/information theory might lead to the development of new cancer interventions.
  • Offer guidance on how the NCI can integrate areas from the physical sciences (physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, etc.) with cancer biology/oncology to enable the development of this field of study.

Outcomes

It is anticipated that the outcomes of this think tank will enable the development of the innovative strategies, models, and approaches needed to build this transdisciplinary field of cancer information coding, transfer, and translation as well as its theoretical foundation. Input from the meeting will be utilized to inform new research directions and mechanisms that will hopefully energize and advance this convergent field of cancer research. Specifically, targeted outcomes include the following:

  • Produce a detailed view and interpretation of the state of the field of information and information theory related to cancer.
  • Assuming that the field is not currently a major thrust in terms of our research efforts to understand and control cancer, define the barriers that are limiting the development of the field.
  • If progress in the field of information theory and information management applied to cancer is to be achieved in a timely manner, define major research questions and directions for the future.
  • Propose examples of research strategies, data management approaches, and infrastructure that could be employed to inform and support addressing these research questions.

The conversations comprising this think tank, including brainstorming sessions, presentations, roundtables, and reports from work groups, will be captured in a report that will be available on an NCI Web site dedicated to this Physical Sciences-Based Frontiers in Oncology Series.

 

Agenda


Wednesday, October 29
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Registration

Salon III Foyer
6:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m. Reception and Buffet Dinner

Salon III
7:30 p.m. - 7:50 p.m. Meeting Background and Introductions

Anna D. Barker, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
National Cancer Institute

Welcome and Introduction of Keynote Presentation
John E. Niederhuber, M.D.
Director
National Cancer Institute

7:50 p.m. - 8:50 p.m. Keynote Presentation

Is DNA a Molecule? Musings on Good Cells Making Bad Choices
Robert Phillips, Ph.D.
Professor
California Institute of Technology

Questions/Discussion

8:50 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Think Tank Process

Anna D. Barker, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
National Cancer Institute

9:00 p.m. - 9:10 p.m. Process and Outcomes Overview

Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.
Founder/President
Facilitation, Foresight, Strategy

Thursday, October 30
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast
8:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. The NCI's Physical Sciences-Based Frontiers in Oncology Think Tank Series

Anna D. Barker, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
National Cancer Institute

Think Tank Process
Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.
Founder/President
Facilitation, Foresight, Strategy

Welcome and Introduction of Keynote Presentation
John E. Niederhuber, M.D.
Director
National Cancer Institute

Salon III
8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Keynote Presentation

Information Theory in Molecular Biology: Key to Understanding Information Transfer, Signaling, and Translation in Cancer
Christoph C. Adami, Ph.D.
Professor
California Institute of Technology

9:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Small Group Discussions: Information Theory - If It's So Important in Cancer, Why Have We Not Made More Progress in the Field?

Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

10:30 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. Break
10:45 a.m. - 11:15 a.m. Keynote Presentation

The Information: Genetic Code(s) and Cancer - State of the Science
David Haussler, Ph.D., M.S.
Professor
University of California, Santa Cruz

11:15 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. Keynote Presentation

The Rest of the Story: The Small RNAs and Cancer
Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D.
Professor
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

11:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Group Discussion: "Cancer Information"

Dr. Haussler, Dr. Sharp, and the Group
Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

12:15 p.m. - 1:10 p.m. Lunch
1:10 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Contextual Translation of Information: So Many Signals - So Many Channels - So Much Translation on So Many Scales Panel: Brief Presentations

Beyond the Genome: Understanding the Human Somatic Cell Tree
Darryl K. Shibata, M.D.
Professor
University of Southern California

Signaling Pathways: An Engineer's Perspective
Philip R. LeDuc, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Carnegie Mellon University

Multiscale Nature of Information Transfer
Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., M.S.
Professor
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Dynamics and Cross-Talk of Intracellular Organelles
Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Ph.D., M.S.
Senior Investigator
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Information Theory in Living Systems: Contributions of the Microenvironment
Robert A. Gatenby, M.D.
Division Chief
Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute

Discussion
Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

2:30 p.m. - 3:45 p.m. Small Group Discussions: Understanding Signaling and Contextual Translation of Information at Multi-scales: What's Relevant from the Physical Sciences?

Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

3:45 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Mind-Clearing Break
6:00 p.m. Think Tank Reconvenes Salon III
6:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. Working Dinner
6:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. The Outcomes and Consequences of Information Transfer in Cancer Across Length Scales

Panel Discussion

How Information Is Used to Build Cells: Design Principles and Information Transfer (10-minute overview)
Wallace F. Marshall, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
University of California, San Francisco

Intersection of Evolution and Information Theory: What Does It Mean for Cancer? (5-minute perspective)
Carlo C. Maley, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Wistar Institute

The Physics of Information Transfer in Cancer (5-minute perspective)
Robert H. Austin, Ph.D.
Professor of Physics
Princeton University

Information Theory: Could This Approach Enable an Understanding of the Why/How of the Malignant Phenotype? (5-minute perspective)
Christoph C. Adami, Ph.D.
Professor
California Institute of Technology

Discussion
Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

7:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Small Group Discussions: From the Viewpoint of Information Transfer and Translation: New Research Approaches/Directions to Better Understand the Cancer Process at Multiscales

Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

8:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. The Future: If We Understand the Specifics (Physics, Chemistry, etc.) of the Information, Its Transfer, and Contextual Translation at Multiple Length Scales in Cancer - Can We Alter Outcomes?

Panel Discussion

Paul Davies, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Professor
Arizona State University

Donald S. Coffey, Ph.D.
Professor
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Robert Phillips, Ph.D.
Professor
California Institute of Technology

W. Daniel Hillis, Ph.D.
Chairman
Applied Minds, Inc.
John E. Niederhuber, M.D.
Director
National Cancer Institute

Discussion
Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

Friday, October 31
7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast Salon III
8:00 a.m. - 8:15 a.m. Review of Day 1

Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.
Founder/President
Facilitation, Foresight, Strategy

8:15 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. Keynote Presentation

The Failure and Repair of Emergent Systems: A Systems Engineering Approach to Cancer
W. Daniel Hillis, Ph.D.
Chairman
Applied Minds, Inc.

Questions and Discussion

9:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. A "Tour" of the Coding, Decoding, Transfer, and Translation of Information in Cancer: Defining the Scope of the Big Questions (Grand Challenges) and How to Approach Answering Them Through Transdisciplinary Research

Thinking Groups

  • Major Overarching Issues
  • Cancer Communication Across Scales
  • What is Information?
  • Technology, Models and Tools

Individual Group Facilitation
Facilitator: Group Leader Facilitators
Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.

Salon II, Plaza B,
Plaza D, and Diplomat
11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Reporting and Refining the Grand Challenges
Group Reporting
Facilitator: Robert Mittman, M.S., M.P.P.
1:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. Summary and Next Steps

John E. Niederhuber, M.D.
Director
National Cancer Institute

Anna D. Barker, Ph.D.
Deputy Director
National Cancer Institute

 

Readings


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