Students, technicians and faculty alike migrate to the classroom where the Longrifles Cancer Seminar is being held, where they will spend their entire evening brainstorming a topic while enjoying pizza, drinks and dessert. This time, the presentation is about mitochondrial DNA copy number in relation to cancer, presented by Angelo DeMarzo and Ph.D. candidate Jiayu Chen. DeMarzo is no stranger to the Longrifles Seminar — it is a series that is shrouded in tradition and has deep roots at the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins.
Donald Coffey, known as “the Chief” by all who knew him at Hopkins, was a revered member of the clinical and research communities here. Starting out as a laboratory glassware washer here at the school of medicine in the late 1950s, he worked his way up the academic ladder by eventually earning his Ph.D. in physiological chemistry and becoming a researcher and the director of the Brady Urological Institute in the 1960s. He was known for his pure love of the pursuit of scientific knowledge and an undeniable ability to inspire others.
You’re probably thinking that “Longrifles” is a famous doctor or donor’s last name, but it actually stems from Coffey’s personal interests outside the lab. Coffey, a history buff who originated from the south, had a fascination with long rifles, which were used by early American hunters. Throughout his career, he had a passion for hunting down the cure for cancer, and therefore he wrote the “Creed of the Brady Longrifles” as inspiration for his students and colleagues. The Creed is a list of 17 rules to live by as “hunters” — hunters for a cure for cancer, that is. Some sentiments from the Creed involve adapting to the ever-changing advancements in the field, working together with colleagues, always thinking of new strategies and allowing younger generations of scientists to forge their own paths.
The Creed also inspired Coffey to found the Longrifles Cancer Seminar in the 1980s. It began as an informal gathering of members of the oncology department at his home. In his backyard, postdocs, technicians, professors and students would swat mosquitoes as they went through a presentation on a projection screen. Oftentimes, the presenter would not advance past Slide 1 because the scientific debate and discussion from that single slide would last for the rest of the evening.
Eventually, the seminar series began to be held at Johns Hopkins, making it more accessible to an even larger academic community. Talking points include questions about the research at hand, possible future directions, possible collaborations within the Johns Hopkins community, and everything from basic biology to clinical implications. Seminars in recent years have ranged from “The Microbiome and Cancer: Should You Believe?” to “Breaking Cancer’s Social Network,” focusing on sophisticated methods of communication between cancer cells. The goal of each session is to “break down the assumptions about the limits of a problem,” as well as foster a collaborative spirit and respect among peers.
The Longrifles Cancer Seminar is dedicated to the memory of Donald Coffey, who passed away in November 2017. It remains a part of his impactful legacy at Johns Hopkins, where he was beloved by many.
- Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Donald Coffey Honored for Cancer Research, Mentoring
- The Life and Times of a Principled Scientist
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