The Biological Response Modifiers Program in Frederick had visitors. A group of well-regarded scientific experts arrived in 1991 to tour some of its laboratories and spaces. Learning about the program was only part of their goal, however. They were there to evaluate it.
The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNL) not only tackles some of the world’s greatest biomedical challenges but also serves as a shared national resource to enable high-quality research beyond its walls. One way FNL does this is through the Technical Services Program.
The Biological Response Modifiers Program had come into its own. Gone was any thought that this was a fleeting initiative. It was a robust mix of clinical and laboratory science at the forefront of immunotherapy, what was becoming the next major method for treating cancer. The program’s capabilities expanded in the second half of the 1980s, even as its clinical trials continued to reveal insights into biological agents for cancer treatment.
Pockets of the NCI at Frederick campus have popped with color the past few months. Staff working on-site may have noticed landscaped flowerbeds boasting arrays of annuals and files of ferns as they passed by larger buildings. The plants were installed thanks to the Campus Improvement Committee, a small group passionate about making a big impact.
Their study started to unravel the riddle of how cancers spread, demonstrating that tumors are comprised of different types of cells, or heterogeneous. Up to this point it was thought that cancer cells in a tumor were identical to each other. The work conducted by husband-and-wife Isaiah (Josh) Fidler, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Margaret Kripke, Ph.D., in Frederick would eventually be recognized as a landmark discovery that redefined the scientific understanding of tumor biology.
Sarah Hooper was hard at work in the intensive care unit at Frederick Memorial Hospital. The young nurse had joined the hospital staff in 1981—her first nursing position—and was spending her days monitoring, caring for, and helping patients in critical condition. All around her, they were struggling with respiratory problems, cardiac issues, and infections. But four beds were special. They were reserved for cancer patients participating in the Biological Response Modifiers Program.
The morning of April 20, 1981, dawned over Frederick, dismal and gray. A canopy of clouds hid the sun, and a springtime chill clung to the city, stirring into a cold breeze later in the day. Despite the ostensibly ill omen, it was an important day for biomedical research. The first patients would be admitted to the Biological Response Modifiers Program (BRMP) inpatient unit at Frederick Memorial Hospital.
It was a party of international stature. More than 300 scientists from 27 countries dined and rubbed elbows in the J. Harper Poor Mansion in Manhattan, a three-story abode that in past years had welcomed the likes of President John F. Kennedy, comedian Jack Benny, and actress Marilyn Monroe. At the center of it all were the Krims, who had invited the droves of researchers into their home for a celebration to kick off an international workshop at Rockefeller University. The subject was interferon, a class of natural proteins associated with the immune system.
Eight Werner H. Kirsten student interns took home awards at this year’s Frederick County Science and Engineering Fair, a virtual competition between local middle and high school students with a passion for the sciences. The event hosted 70 students who created 64 projects, including 28 high school students who submitted 25 projects. Together, the WHK interns who won awards comprised nearly one-third of participating high schoolers.
Tucked away among NCI at Frederick’s various buildings, two facilities are quietly under development. In one, engineers are assembling a hulking Titan Krios electron microscope. In the other, equipment is slowly but surely being gathered for eventual installation. The microscope belongs to the newly minted Center for Structural Biology, formed from a merger of the Macromolecular Crystallography Laboratory and the Structural Biology Laboratory. It is the first of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s latest line of Krios microscopes to be installed outside of one of the company’s factories.