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Promise and Progress - Director's Letter

CSI Cancer-Solving Investigators, Building the Best GI Cancer Program - Fall 2008-Winter 2009

Director's Letter

By: Stephen Baylin
Date: October 1, 2008


THE GREAT DISTANCE WE must still travel to prevent and cure cancer is poignantly highlighted by the death from leukemia, almost one year ago, of our long time friend and
Kimmel Cancer Center director, Dr. Martin Abeloff. Our inability to cure his disease illustrates that the origins of cancer, and the process of their progression to metastatic forms that most often take lives of our patients, remain challenging to understand liologically, and most importantly, challenging to prevent and treat. However, our researchers continue to uncover, ever further, the cellular and molecular mechanisms
through which cancers are initiated and that they utilize to go unnoticed by the immune system. They also are making substantial progress in unraveling these same aspects as they collaborate to allow cancers to avoid the wrath of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These advances are heavily tied to our increasing and incredible abilities to decipher the cancer genome and epigenome and translate our findings into new
noninvasive cancer screening methods and novel, targeted therapies that are already making a difference in patients.

In this issue, you will read about our gastrointestinal (GI) cancer program, including our pancreas cancer clinic which has became a model for interdisciplinary cancer care; a new
colon cancer clinic that also incorporates this team approach to bring innovative therapies to metastatic colon cancer patients; the latest surgical techniques that are making inoperable cancers operable again; and advances in pain and palliative care, a cancer subspecialty that helps patients manage the many symptoms related to the presence of cancer and which may arise during treatment. These clinics so clearly illustrate how our Cancer Center builds and uses interdepartmental collaborations and research discoveries to develop combined cancer therapies to treat some of the most resistant cancers.

We are in current, trying economic times which have severely diminished the relative support provided by our traditional funding mechanisms, such as the National Cancer
Institute. The recent philanthropic support from our many donors provides an invaluable buffer to these problems, and in some cases, has proven transformative making continued
progress possible. With the rising costs of everything, from pipettes to high-tech equipment, and federal funding remaining static, the reality is that, without philanthropy, we have less money for laboratory and clinical research. The effects on young investigators entering basic and clinical research are mounting. The generosity of individuals and foundations was critical to establishing the GI cancer programs featured in this issue and is vital to keeping our science moving forward. It facilitates the entrance of new scientists into our research enterprise, stabilizes established research groups, and ensures that our most promising results receive the highest translation towards the clinic.

One palpable example of the philanthropy-scientific collaboration is research funded by the Commonwealth Foundation that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. It provides a major proof of principle step for indicating that epigenetic DNA markers can be used to detect cancer and predict its behavior (see page 2.). Although
these are early findings, we have now made a potentially powerful advance in the clinical management of lung cancer, the most lethal and difficult to treat of the common cancers,
by using a more accurate molecular staging technique.

I am also happy to report that we have made great progress in the search for our new Cancer Center director and expect to have an announcement soon.

This is truly an exciting time as we begin to see years, and in some cases decades, of research lead to advances in clinical care. Cancer is an immensely complex disease, and we certainly don’t have all of the answers yet, but it is becoming less of a mystery with each discovery. Dr. Abeloff would be proud of our past year of efforts and especially proud that many of our discoveries are so close to improving patient care.

Articles in this Issue

Directors Letter

CIS Cancer Solving Investigations