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Science, Science Signaling, and Science Translational Medicine – AAAS Special Collection on Cancer Research, March 2011

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GMS Med Bibl Inf 2011;11(1-2):Doc11

doi: 10.3205/mbi000226, urn:nbn:de:0183-mbi0002267

This is the English version of the article.
The German version can be found at:

Published: October 6, 2011

© 2011 Forsythe.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


The National Cancer Act, signed in 1971, aimed to eliminate cancer deaths through a massive increase in research funding. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the publisher of Science, Science Signaling, and Science Translational Medicine, observed the 40th anniversary of the Cancer Act in 2011, with special research articles and features, found in all three journals, on the state of cancer research 40 years later. This collection of articles explores both breakthroughs and the challenges in cancer research over the last four decades, and lets us know what we might expect in the future.

Keywords: biomarker detection, breast cancer, cancer, cellular signaling, chemotherapy, chemotherapeutic, chromosomes, clinical trials, epigenomic, genomics, genome-wide, immune system, metastasis, methylomes, molecular medicine, Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, signaling pathways, tumor cells, tumor virology, United States National Cancer Institute, viruses

Science, Science Signaling, and Science Translational Medicine – AAAS Special Collection on Cancer Research, March 2011

Cancer research is the theme of a special collection published in the three peer-reviewed journals of the American Association for the Advancement of Science during the last week of March 2011: Science [1], Science Signaling [2], and Science Translational Medicine [3]. The collection of Research Articles, Editorial Guides, Perspectives, Commentaries, News and even Podcasts and Videos are on cancer-related topics to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the U.S. National Cancer Act of 1971.

The introduction to the special Science issue (Figure 1 [Fig. 1]), “Cancer Crusade at 40 [4],” explains that the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act provided a massive stimulus for cancer research and reflects on the tough questions raised by research papers published by Science in 1971. Among them: How do abnormalities in chromosome number arise in tumor cells, and do viruses play a role in human cancer? Skeptics might argue that, 40 years later, cancer researchers continue to grapple with the same questions. But the selection of articles in this special issue of Science will explain why many of these questions have proved so challenging and, more importantly, how contemporary cancer research is providing a clearer view of the biology that will lead to answers. At least one of the questions that concerned cancer researchers writing in Science back in 1971 has been definitively answered: Viruses do in fact play a causal role in certain human cancers, and, after decades of tumor virology research, vaccines against these viruses have been developed into successful cancer-preventive agents.

Science Signaling’s special cancer issue, “Rendering Resistance Futile [5],” explores mechanisms whereby cancer cells become resistant to classical chemotherapy drugs aimed at rapidly proliferating cells. The research highlights that cancer cells are remarkably resilient to therapies aimed at their elimination. Cancer is also a multifaceted disease in which cancer cells interact with metastatic sites and the immune system. Effective therapies will likely require context-specific approaches. Investigating pathways that sustain cancer cells and allow them to become resistant reveals new avenues for chemotherapeutic development and innovative rational approaches to combination therapies based on existing treatment options. The hope in cellular signaling cancer research is to identify the signaling pathways capable of overcoming therapeutic resistance in cancer cells and render them futile. The Science Signaling cancer issue contains an Editorial Guide, three Research Articles, two Perspectives, and a Podcast, all on topics relevant to current cancer research.

A feature research article in the special issue on cancer in Science Translational Medicine (Figure 2 [Fig. 2]), “Breast Cancer Methylomes Establish an Epigenomic Foundation for Metastasis [6],” illustrates the power of modern technologies in genomics. In this article, Fang et al. examine the methylome, or the genome-wide, single-based resolution map of gene methylation, in breast cancers and find a signature that may predict metastasis. The authors used this genome-wide analysis to examine methylome signatures in breast cancers with various metastatic behaviors and found a signature that was associated with low metastatic risk and improved rates of survival. Translational medicine represents the universal efforts of researchers and doctors to improve the quality of patients’ lives through actionable medical advancements derived from hard research. Science Translational Medicine brings interdisciplinary research, commentary, and a forum for communication between basic scientists and clinical researchers from traditional and emerging fields.

The Commentary, “Accrual to Cancer Clinical Trials in the Era of Molecular Medicine [7],” demonstrates Science Translational Medicine’s full treatment of medicine from research to clinical trial. Explored in this Commentary are the advancements in oncology through molecularly-targeted treatments, and the challenges and potential solutions for the clinical testing of modern cancer therapies. Annual enrollment or accrual, sponsored by the United States National Cancer Institute, has been almost 30,000 patients in 10 years. The majority were enrolled by only a fraction of the 14,000 participating oncologists. Unfortunately, this is only 3 percent to 5 percent of adult cancer patients. Besides addressing the shortage of patients willing to participate in trials, the article advocates streamlining the design of clinical trials in order to take advantage of the modern technologies in genomics, biomarker detection, and molecular imaging. These tools provide information enabling physicians to select appropriate treatments for individual cancer patients from among more than 800 new experimental drugs and antibodies that target the products of the aberrant genes that can cause cancer. Read the full-text article in English at To read a German translation of the article, go here


Science. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. Available from: External link
Science Signaling. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. Available from: External link
Science Translational Medicine. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. Available from: External link
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