Promising advances are being made in cancer research, but some bright young scientists are stymied by dwindling federal funding for their innovative and groundbreaking work.
On Feb. 28, 15 researchers who have just begun their careers will arrive in Washington, D.C., for Hill Day, organized by the American Association of Cancer Researchers, to visit the offices of senators and congressional representatives and state the case for funding life-saving studies.
Selena Lin, 30, a molecular oncology doctoral fellow at Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s John Wayne Cancer Institute, is among 15 accomplished cancer research investigators chosen nationwide to participate in Hill Day. Her research specialty is in cancer “liquid biopsies,” where body fluids such as blood and urine are utilized in a minimally-invasive approach for early detection and monitoring of deadly cancers. And her passion is translational research - where she hopes that one day cancer patients can benefit from her research for more sensitive, frequent and noninvasive monitoring of cancers.
Lin, who has a doctorate in microbiology and immunology, will join colleagues from top medical research centers across the nation, including Stanford University Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Duke Cancer Institute and the Washington School of Medicine.
The group will meet on Feb. 28 then spend the following day visiting members of Congress to explain the critical need for more cancer research funding, especially in light of advances in cancer research. And while Providence Saint John’s and the cancer institute receive grants and donations for research, is it not enough to sustain and advance novel life-saving research.
“I think it’s important to talk face-to-face with those making decisions about funding cancer research,” Lin said. “I think we have an opportunity to show Congress where the money goes, what they’re writing checks for. When they can talk to scientists and see how cancer patients can benefit from the research they are funding, that will make a huge difference.”
This is the second annual Hill Day organized by the AACR, a trade group with 37,000 members worldwide. The AACR is active in advocating for cancer research funding. It’s become particularly difficult for young investigators to secure funding early in their careers. Because of that, promising scientists are leaving the field, said Rachel Salas-Silverman, spokeswoman for the AACR.
As a fellow, Lin has the opportunity to work with the John Wayne Cancer Institute Department of Translational Molecular Medicine’s notable team of cancer researchers led by David Hoon, M.D. She is working on innovative molecular liquid biopsy screenings for a number of cancers, including prostate and lung cancers and melanoma.
Lin also sits on the AACR’s Associate Member Council and is chairman of the fundraising subcommittee. She is tasked with exploring ways to raise awareness and funding for cancer research for early-career research scientists.
“Currently, many young scientists have novel and innovative ideas, but it is very difficult to get NIH (National Institutes of Health) grants,” she said. “Less than 10 percent of people who apply are successful. Overall there needs to be more funding.”