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DOD Reignites Cancer Research Initiative to 'End Cancer as We Know It Today'

Defense Department health officials will discuss cancer research efforts with the aim of reducing cancer prevalence and cancer-related deaths across the Military Health System.

The DOD component of a reignited Cancer Moonshot, a governmentwide, White House initiative, will be rolled out May 4 at an event sponsored by and hosted at the DOD's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. 

A man in a lab coat stands next to a large logo on a wall.
Dr. Craig Shriver
Dr. Craig Shriver is leading a renewed Defense Department and Defense Health Agency effort to significantly expand cancer research and save lives through personalized medical treatments using proteogenomics. Shriver is the director of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and a professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
Photo By: Bernard Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
VIRIN: 211124-D-AB123-004

The effort marks significant expansion of a program that began in 2016 when the DOD, Department of Veterans Affairs and National Cancer Institute created the Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes (APOLLO) Network. 

The APOLLO Network, created in response to the original Cancer Moonshot initiative in 2016, created a network of 13 DOD and VA hospitals that launched eight cancer-specific programs, including studies in lung, breast, prostate, ovarian, pancreatic, testicular and brain cancers. 

Over time, the new Cancer Moonshot initiative will expand the APOLLO Network to all DHA hospitals and extend its research efforts to include all cancer types.  

"We developed two robust and ongoing programs during the original Cancer Moonshot and will leverage those lessons-learned, as well as new opportunities, to support the nation's warfighters and veterans through our new DOD initiatives," said Dr. Craig Shriver, professor of surgery and director of the Murtha Cancer Research Program at USU and director of the John P. Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The other program is the DOD Framingham, which uses the DOD Serum Repository to study cancer biomarkers in active-duty service members. 

What is Proteogenomics? 

The emerging field of proteogenomics aims to better predict how individual patients will respond to cancer therapy by screening their tumors for both genetic abnormalities and protein information and combining protein and gene analyses from patients' specimens. Most cancer drugs target proteins, so researchers hope that combining protein analysis and gene analysis will improve doctors' abilities to predict tumor response to treatment and eventually match a specific individual's tumor with the right drug, a DOD official said. 

Goals from the White House 

As Vice President, Joe Biden was charged with establishing the Cancer Moonshot to significantly reduce the prevalence of cancers through an accelerated research program. During his presidential campaign and first State of the Union address as president in 2021, he has continued to champion this initiative. 

The reignition of the initiative contains "new ambitious goals: to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years and improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer — and, by doing this and more, end cancer as we know it today," the White House said. 

May 4 Roundtable 

Seileen Mullen, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and Dr. David Smith, acting principal deputy ASD/HA, will host the DOD's Cancer Moonshot virtual roundtable, which will be livestreamed on Wednesday, May 4, from 1-2 p.m. EDT. Shriver will moderate "A Conversation on Cancer Health Equity and Military-relevant Environmental Exposure," which is part of a day-long series of federal agency events sponsored by the initiative.  

The discussion will include the following participants: 

• Jerry Lee, chief science and innovation officer of the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine. 

• Jie Lin, senior epidemiologist for the Murtha Cancer Research Program. 

• Patricia Hastings, chief consultant for the VA Health Outcomes Military Exposures. 

• Warren Casey, acting chief for the predictive toxicology branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 

The following military cancer survivors and partners of survivors also will participate in the discussion: 

• Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Charles Felder. 

 • U.S. Public Health Service Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Jabara. 

• Coast Guard partner Melinda DeLoatch-Speight. 

• Marine Corps partner Homa Shafii-Schweers. 

• Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Christian. 

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