Science Cafe Concord to tackle wild changes to treatment of all types of cancer

Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

You don’t have to tell Sarah Eck that these are exciting times for treating cancer between breakthroughs in immuno-therapy and our understanding of genetics.

“My grandfather had lung cancer a few years ago, Stage 4. The standard of care was to put him on a chemotherapy regimen, knowing that makes his projected one year of life not a quality one,” said Eck, who will be a panelist at tonight’s Science Cafe Concord discussing the current and future state of cancer treatment and research.

Eck, a Hopkinton resident whose biochemistry Ph.D. focused on breast cancer cells and their exploitation of normal cells, looked around and found a clinical trial being conducted on new immuno-therapy. Four years later, her grandfather is still around.

“Immunotherapy is essentially harnessing the immune system, or properties of the immune system, in a way that allows our own bodies to better fight cancer by recognizing it and targeting it,” said Eck, who founded a firm providing health research and data analysis. “It is showing great promise across the board.”

Equally promising, she said, are discoveries based on genetics.

“Cancer has genetic components; if genes aren’t mutated, nothing happens. ... The genome having been established, we can better understand different genes and what drives oncogenes – the genes that are promoting cancer – and look at ways to inhibit those,” she said. “The more information we have about the genome, the more we can do.”

Such excitement and discoveries about all types of cancer is why the topic will be discussed at Science Cafe. Eck will join clinicians and researchers to answer questions from whoever shows up about the biology of cancer, the realities of treatment, what’s coming down the pike, and anything else you can think of. As always, it starts at 6 p.m. in The Draft Sports Bar, and is free and open to all.

I’m excited that Eck is a panelist for another reason: She is a co-founder of Science Cafe New Hampshire who has mostly stayed out of the limelight due to the realities of life in the form of two small children.

Eck said she first encountered the idea of science cafes during graduate school at Dartmouth, working with a project to use them in schools as part of STEM education.

“After I graduated and was pregnant, waiting for a baby, needing something to do – taking this idea of spreading science, of getting the word out about pertinent science issues in an informal manner, really struck a chord with me,” she said.

Eventually, folks at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation got her in contact with Dan Marcek, a tech worker from Brookline who had encountered science cafes in Europe and also wanted to start one here. The two of them put their heads together, drew up a plan and contacted me, and we decided to boldly go where no New Hampshire bar had gone before.

That was in early 2011. Yes, 2011.

“It’s incredible that it has been seven years now,” Eck said. “I can’t believe it!”

Nor can I. We’ve held more than 70 sessions (nine a year, taking off July, August and December).

Plus, like a cell undergoing mitosis – or is it meiosis? I can never remember – Science Cafe New Hampshire has split in two. It now holds separate gatherings in Nashua and Concord.

Well over 2,500 folks have attended at least one of our chats, by my calculation, and more than 100 academics, corporate bosses, clinicians, parents, teens and professionals of all stripes have volunteered to be a panelist, despite getting no reward other than some free pub food and the pleasure of intelligent conversation.

The success has inspired others, too. SEE Science Center runs a monthly Science on Tap discussion in Manchester, and the Piscataqua Science Cafe in Portsmouth starts up again tomorrow (Oct. 18), with a presentation on right whales.

I’ve said for some time that New Hampshire is the nation’s leader in per-capita science cafes, and I think Sarah Eck – and Dan Marcek and me – can take pride in that.

You can, too. Just show up tonight and join the conversation.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


What: Science Cafe Concord – “Cancer: Big changes are coming to how we diagnose and treat all types of cancer.” Q&A session with Sarah Eck, health science consultant and Science Safe New Hampshire co-founder; Brian Barth, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of New Hampshire; Dr. Brian Kanab, of Radiation Treatment and Oncology for Elliot Health System. Free and open to all.

When: Tuesday, Oct. 17, 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: The Draft Sports Bar, 67 S. Main St., Concord.

For more information: ScienceCafeNH.org