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Human health-related research, including cancer research, has been part of Lawrence Livermore’s DNA since the 1960s. Given Livermore’s weapons mission, early efforts were logically focused on the effects of low-dose radiation exposure, but soon branched into other areas. By the 1980s, for instance, Laboratory biologists were exploring the potential dangers of food mutagens —compounds in food that might cause cancer—particularly those found in grilled or fried meat. The results of their endeavors ultimately informed better cooking practices for meat preparation. As the article 60 Years of Cancer Research describes, the Laboratory’s work on food mutagens is just one example of Lawrence Livermore’s diverse and sustained efforts to better understand cancer development and thereby combat it more effectively. Cancer research today spans a range of disciplines, technologies, and focus areas.
While the Laboratory’s programmatic missions drive its core research commitments of stockpile stewardship, nuclear nonproliferation, and national security, we have always found ways to support the fundamentally human mission of global health. Unsurprisingly, as one of the leading causes of death across the globe, cancer is a key part of that mission. The National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. From a humanitarian standpoint, we need to point our best resources toward this problem.
To understand cancer development and progression, many different areas of expertise must come together, including biology, computing, engineering, and data science. Lawrence Livermore is an institution that excels in multidisciplinary research, approaching complex problems from new directions and taking advantage of our unique facilities and technologies. In fact, our collaborative approach is one of the hallmarks of our success, regardless of the project. The article starting on page 20 about the Livermore-led VisIt visualization and analysis tool exemplifies the Laboratory’s tradition of technological advancement through collaboration, in this case, to support scalable, high-quality evaluation of simulations. Similarly, in the article beginning on page 12, an interdisciplinary team of physics, chemistry, surface science, and nanoscale materials experts developed a new fabrication method to produce “gold foam” aerogels: a major advancement in nanoscale materials engineering. We constantly strive to use our wealth of resources, expertise, and extensive research to advance science.
Nothing illustrates this more than the Laboratory’s history of cancer research. These efforts have produced remarkable innovations, from the refinement of tools and processes like fluorescent in-situ hybridization, or FISH, to the advancement of high-performance computing and multiscale modeling—all made possible by our culture of innovation and collaboration.
By working with partners in industry and academia, such as the University of California at Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, we have gained access to critical clinical data, expertise, and resources. Partnerships like these allow us to bring our unique technologies to the clinicians and spark the creation of teams of scientists, engineers, students, and medical practitioners. These teams give students the opportunity to experience our culture, supporting a hiring pipeline so they can further their research careers at the Laboratory. Similarly, partnerships such as the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) program, allow us to leverage our strengths in support of a common goal—in this case using Lawrence Livermore’s expertise in computing and predictive modeling to better understand the Ras protein. Partnerships are a fundamental thread in the Laboratory’s cultural fabric and, as the article beginning on page 16 describes, can even lead to commercialization efforts that help us turn new technologies and tools into products that benefit the public.
Cancer research has played an important part in the Laboratory’s biology program for the past 60 years, and it will likely continue to do so until a cure is discovered. It is a vibrant area of research that benefits from Livermore’s team science approach, robust tools, and capabilities. It is part of our biology story, and we will continue to find creative ways to approach this innately human problem, so the chapter on cancer research might one day close.