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Ethan Dmitrovsky, MD, believes the timing is right to push heavily for cancer research. That, coupled with his feeling of “tremendous responsibility” to do all he can to fight this disease that strikes so many people, has led him to pursue and accept leadership positions within the field. “It's an exciting time to be part of this process, but one of our main challenges is how to do more with less,” he says. “Still, that doesn't diminish the fact that we must do more.”

Dr. Dmitrovsky, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School and a leader at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Hanover, New Hampshire, became the new chair of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Board of Scientific Counselors for Clinical Sciences and Epidemiology last July. He also is an American Cancer Society clinical research professor, an associate director of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, and a board member of LIVESTRONG.

A member of the board of scientific counselors since 2008, Dr. Dmitrovsky will serve as chair until July 2013. In that role, he guides the 22-member board in advising the NCI and its leadership on the progress and direction of its intramural cancer research programs. The board is made up of physicians and scientists from cancer centers and universities across the country—all with expertise in translational research.

The board meets 3 times annually, evaluates tenured and tenure-track NCI scientists, and formally reviews programs through site visits. “Our goal is to ensure that the best science is being conducted and supported,” Dr. Dmitrovsky says. “The peer-review process is the best system we have, even though it's driven by human beings and is not necessarily perfect.”

Although he sees the difficulty in deciding between highly meritorious projects to determine the best investment of resources, Dr. Dmitrovsky says he has been impressed with the rigor, diligence, and fairness of the peer-review process both in and outside of the NCI.

Budgetary Hurdles

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  2. Budgetary Hurdles

Despite current budgetary challenges, he emphasizes that “now is not the time to be turning away from research— when it is making real progress.”

Allowing that the research community may be entering into another period of “flat funding” at the same time that society is aging and facing more cancer risk, he believes the country must aggressively address the cancer problem. But he concedes that will not be easy.

It's an exciting time to be part of this process, but one of our main challenges is how to do more with less. Still, that doesn't diminish the fact that we must do more.—Ethan Dmitrovsky, MD

“I'd like to see some of the initiatives at the NCI to be exported to cancer centers, such as Dr. Lee Helman's efforts to expedite clinical trials,” he says. “If he can do that internally, we should be able to do it in the extramural cancer community.” (Lee Helman, MD, is scientific director for clinical research at the NCI's Center for Cancer Research.)

Although he has to travel to Bethesda, Maryland, several times a month to participate in NCI advisory panels, Dr. Dmitrovsky says he values the experience because he is committed to helping reduce the significant burden of cancer.

“Those of us who are asked always choose to serve,” he says. “The clear intent of all of our board members is to give back. I'm impressed with their commitment to service. I'm equally impressed by the stewards of the NCI who work exceptionally hard on behalf of all of us.”