NCI Director Norman E. Sharpless on the Future of Cancer Research

By Marie Haughey, staff writer
National Cancer Institute Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless.

National Cancer Institute Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless.

Last week, Director Norman E. “Ned” Sharpless spoke with Paul Goldberg, editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter, regarding his six-month “listening tour,” a project he embarked on after being named the new director, as well as his vision for the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“The very big picture,” Sharpless said, regarding the future of cancer research, “[is] what are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? Where do things have to change, and how can we do things faster?”

Sharpless acknowledged that, instead of a singular disease, cancer is actually thousands of diseases—a notion that has cancer researchers reevaluating the way they do just about everything.

Fortunately, their modified vision is driving new and exciting innovations, including one that Sharpless noted from the Frederick National Laboratory (FNL): The National Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility.

“One of the things I’m most excited about Frederick is we’re building this sort of cryo-EM support facility, because we have appreciated that cryo-electron microscopy is so important nationally, but a lot of places, even though they’re buying and investing in the technology, really still aren’t able to solve structures to the level of detail that they would like, and so the NCI is a facility where people can now send us their matrices, their lattices, and we will do some of the imaging for them and then help them with the data interpretation, which I think is a well-used resource and is going to grow a lot.”

For more on Sharpless’ vision for the future of cancer research, the NCI, and the FNL, be sure to listen to his full interview here.