Top NCI official Dinah Singer on the moonshot fight against cancer

Dinah Singer is the acting deputy director of the National Cancer Institute and director of its Division of Cancer Biology. Singer co-chaired a blue ribbon panel that provided recommendations to help scientists meet the goals of the National Cancer Moonshot, an Obama administration initiative to accelerate cures for cancer. In December, Congress approved $4.8 billion in funding over the next 10 years for the National Institutes of Health to invest in research for cancer and other diseases. In a conversation with Tom Fox, Singer discussed the challenge to speed-up cancer research, the progress being made and her views on managing scientists. Fox is a guest writer for On Leadership and the vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your view on the moonshot challenge to make a decade of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care during the next five years?

The cancer moonshot is really shining a laser light on our research opportunities and especially those that are poised to be accelerated. It has served to bring the community together to clearly identify and articulate the research opportunities that we could advance and achieve in five years that would normally take a decade. My view of this goal is that it is ambitious, but achievable.

How would you describe the state of cancer research today?

We have made remarkable progress during the past 10 years in understanding what makes a cancer cell, the mutations that give rise to it and how those mutations affect the proliferation, growth and metabolism of the cancer. Now we're moving to understand not just the cancer cell itself, but the tumor within which it is growing. We are focusing much more on the immune cells in the tumor, how are they inhibited from rejecting the tumor and how some of them help promote the tumor growth. We are looking how non-immune cells in the tumor work together. All of this is necessary to help us understand what makes a tumor grow and what allows some of the tumor to break off and spread. We are really on the cusp of amazing new discoveries. Everything seems to be coming together to help us understand cancer and its evolution.

This post was originally featured on The Washington Post's website.