A Comprehensive Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Pathways to Discovery: Summer 2012

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Hands-on Education Program Demonstrates Importance of Cancer Research

As one of only 41 Comprehensive Cancer Centers designated by the National Cancer Institute, The University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC) serves the surrounding community with world class cancer care from renowned experts. The UCCCC’s high level of cancer care results from the translation of extensive scientific research that explores the biological basis of disease. To provide a firsthand view of this complex process, the UCCCC invited board members of The University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation (UCCRF) to participate in the Project Cancer Education program. This unique program, first developed by The Ohio State University with the Association of American Cancer Institutes, was designed to help individuals better appreciate the necessity and role of cancer research in patient care.

“It’s important for everyone to understand the intricate process behind medical research,” said Mary Ellen Connellan, MA, UCCRF executive director. “The program served as a tangible reminder that research ultimately leads to better care for patients.”

During the half-day experience, the participants watched a multidisciplinary panel of doctors collaboratively discuss a cancer case. Each member of the panel lent his/her expertise and presented recommendations to formulate a comprehensive treatment plan. “One of the UCCCC’s strengths is providing comprehensive care for patients that includes prevention, detection, treatment, and survivorship,” said UCCCC Director Michelle M. Le Beau, PhD, Arthur and Marian Edelstein Professor of Medicine.

Panel members included Karen E. Kim, MD, MS, associate professor of medicine and director of the UCCCC Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Disparities; Alessandro Fichera, MD, associate professor of surgery; Sonia Kupfer, MD, assistant professor of medicine; Blase Polite, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine; Susan Hong, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine; Mukta Krane, MD, assistant professor of surgery; Stanley Liauw, MD, associate professor of radiation and cellular oncology; Aytekin Oto, MD, professor of radiology and surgery; and Cassandra Gulden, MS, LGC, a cancer genetic counselor.

Participants assumed the roles of physician-scientists and patients and took part in scenarios that these groups might frequently encounter. Some participants were informed about clinical trials and how they make the latest treatments available to patients. Others were offered a behind-the-scenes tour of research facilities, including the UCCCC’s Human Tissue Resource Center, where they learned how human biospecimens are stored and used in cancer research. Participants also had the opportunity to formulate research ideas, observe experiments in progress, learn about the submittal process for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and consider research funding sources.

“Project Cancer Education allowed participants to step into my shoes for an hour and understand the excitement and challenges of life as a physician-scientist,” said Dr. Kupfer.

This successful event was the first UCCCC initiative focused on educating community members on the importance of cancer research in advancing clinical care.

Program participant Suzanne Zaccone, a member of The UCCRF Board of Trustees, said, “What I came to appreciate was the amount of time and work it takes to get a research project funded. To hear that promising research is not always federally funded helps me understand why private funding is so critical.” Future audiences of the program will include state and federal legislators, as well as other community members, since their support is needed more than ever in the face of rising costs and continuing cuts in federal research funding.

Ernst Lengyel