Annual Report - 1996-1997
M. D. Anderson's ability to conduct interdisciplinary research and rapidly translate new knowledge to improve the detection, treatment and prevention of cancer is unmatched.
The past year has been marked by "productive, brilliant research from dedicated faculty who continue to report major discoveries applicable to our understanding of what causes cancer and how to prevent and cure this age-old disease," said Dr. F rederick F. Becker, vice president for research and scientific director of the Tumor Institute.
Some of the exceptional progress in translational research is exemplified by the overall level of external research support, which surpassed $100 million for the first time and continued to include one of the largest number of grants and contracts from t he National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded to a single institution.
Dr. Becker cites as "especially important" several interrelated Program Project grants funded by NCI for collaborations of basic and clinical scientists in chemoprevention, childhood tumors, hematological malignancies, neuro-oncology and radiat ion oncology.
A new Office of Protocol Research opened in the last fiscal year to provide more effective coordination of the nearly 500 clinical trials under way at M. D. Anderson. Dr. Leonard A. Zwelling, associate vice president for clinical and translational research, says consolidating and computerizing clinical trial activities in one office has reduced the paperwork involved in approving, implementing, monitoring and evaluating approximately 5,000 patients taking part in protocols.
"Many standard cancer therapies now available across the country and around the world were developed through clinical trials conducted over many previous years at M. D. Anderson, and we know that many of tomorrow's treatments will come from our curr ent protocols. We are constantly trying to make the process by which we approve and conduct these clinical trials more efficient," Dr. Zwelling says.
Among other recent accomplishments in the integrated research continuum are:
- Accelerated laboratory research and animal studies that led to landmark clinical trials testing gene therapy techniques for patients with lung, breast, ovarian, head and neck, and hematologic cancers, and primary brain tumors.
- Designating priority research programs involving teams of scientists who are intensifying efforts to strengthen therapies and design preventive strategies for prostate, breast, ovarian and skin cancers, and brain tumors.
- Further solidifying the international reputation for contributions in understanding why many cancers metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body, including development of new techniques to identify breast and prostate tumors with a high potentia l for metastasis.
- Opening a Clinical Pharmacology Research Facility to support studies by many investigators who depend on plasma and urine samples collected at specific times and to provide timely data interpretation and analytical assay development.
- Approval of an innovative tissue engineering research program that will link scientists and clinicians in the Department of Plastic Surgery and the Section of Orthopedic Surgery with experts in the Institute of Bioengineering at Rice University.
During the last year, M. D. Anderson's Science Park-Research Division in Bastrop County was awarded a major federal grant to establish an Environmental Health Sciences Center to study mechanisms and prevention of environmental diseases, including cancer. This new center will integrate the work of nationally known scientists at the Science Park as well as those at M. D. Anderson in Houston and The University of Texas at Austin.
Dr. Becker says creation of a new Department of Human Cancer Genetics will expand already extensive research aimed at understanding the complex genetic mutations and alterations that increase the susceptibility of individuals to develop cancer.
"In addition to our productive and diverse translational research programs, M. D. Anderson supports independent investigators whose studies contribute to understanding the fundamental processes that lead to many major diseases, cancer included," ; Dr. Becker notes.
Looking to the immediate future, he observes, "We are in a particularly pivotal period where we have unprecedented opportunities to take advantage of promising new research avenues. It is imperative that our high level of philanthropic support be maintained to assure we can recruit - and retain - the brightest research faculty."