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Nov. 8, 2011

Forming a global cancer network for research, clinical care, education and prevention.

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MD Anderson’s Moonshots

A change of administration brings a great deal of excitement to an institution, and also some of the anxiety inevitably associated with change. MD Anderson has been awaiting our new president, Ronald DePinho, M.D.’s vision for our future and we had our first chance this week when he presented it at a townhall meeting.
After asking an MD Anderson Gyn Onc physician once, “What is cancer trying to do,” she paused and simple stated, “That’s a good question.” And that is exactly the question DePinho wants the institution to focus on and answer. MD Anderson treats cancer as effectively as anyone, and because of its strong clinical engagement, extensive translational research capabilities and sound business model, is well positioned to capitalize on recent scientific advances in order to make a profound impact on cancer. DePinho’s stated objective for MD Anderson is no small feat; to cure several major cancers. He framed it as a moonshot, and as our responsibility.

Research is, of course, the key to solving a medical or scientific problem. A great deal of research, however, is pursued in isolation from complimentary efforts that may feed on or improve the result, which is particularly detrimental when tackling problems requiring large teams of different specialists. In an institution the size of MD Anderson, for example, there are thousands of people pursuing our common goal or eradicating cancer, but from the vantages of individual disciplines. DePinho envisions the institution further integrating research into a multidisciplinary model much like that employed in the clinical setting. Changing the research paradigm, however, requires changing the way researchers ask questions.

Instead of focusing on what a particular lab needs to do in order to take the next step in its current research, or increase its publication numbers, or impact factor of those publications, DePinho want everyone to ask, “What do I need to know in order to cure this cancer?” It does not sound unreasonable. Most people outside of research probably think that is the question already being asked. But modern academia, with its imperative to pursue near-term goals of funding and publications sometimes make it hard to focus on the larger picture.

Anyone who asks a question as comprehensive as the one posed by our president realizes they need information from a variety of sources before they can work on their particular piece of the puzzle. This would create an innate need to work with, and understand the work of, other scientific and research disciplines. In addition to MD Anderson being a place where a surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist sit around a table and ask “How do we treat this patient?,” it would become a place where a virologist, biochemist, immunologist, geneticist, epidemiologist, chemist, pharmacologist and bioinformatician could sit around a similar table and ask, “What information are we lacking to fix this and how do we get it.”  That would then drive their individual and cumulative pursuits.

As with any grand ambition, there are a multitude of details and concerns to address, including how to blend the needs of the individual to succeed in an academic model and the need to build large cooperating teams. But the president has inspired MD Anderson to take a fresh look at the cancer problem and consider incorporating certain industry practices such as defined milestones and deliverables. The new perspective will also require a willingness to set aside projects, which may lead to interesting research but not to clinical breakthroughs. Needless to say, the coming months and years will be interesting and challenging here at MD Anderson. But as we pursue this aim to cure several major cancers, it can only also energize the GAP network. GAP looks forward to including you in the work and progress as we cooperatively learn about and lessen cancer’s impact across the globe.

Calendar of Events

Oncolead - MD Anderson/Turkish MO Conference
MD Anderson
20th Floor Pickens Tower
Nov. 17-18, 2011

9th International Conference on Ovarian Cancer
MD Anderson
Dec. 2-3, 2011

Recent Developments in Cancer Prevention
Udaipur, India
Dec. 16-19, 2011


9th International Conference on Ovarian Cancer

Dec. 2-3, 2011, The University of Texas MD Anderson will host the 9th International Conference on Ovarian Cancer intended to “bring together oncologists, gynecologists, general practitioners and allied health providers to present and discuss the most current information on the treatment of ovarian cancer.” The speakers at the conference are predominately leading researchers in ovarian cancer from MD Anderson and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Several guest speakers from other institutions will also present. If you are interested in attending and learning more, read the conference webpage for all the details.

12th Indo-American Chamber of Commerce-Houston Gala

This year's gala on Nov. 12, 2011 entitled "Transforming Our World," will feature, H.E. Nirupama Rao, ambassador of India to the United States. The Chamber of Commerce works to enable partnerships and connections between the United States and India. In GAP, staff often works with national Chambers of Commerce to foster conversations in other countries and the Houston area. Lopa Mishra, M.D., chair of the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition and her department are sponsors of the Chamber and GAP also holds a membership. The event will be held at the Intercontinental Houston and begins at 6:30 p.m.

Network News

KHCC Sister Signing and Personalized Medicine Focus

One week ago, MD Anderson representatives travelled to Amman, Jordan to sign a Sister Institution agreement with King Hussein Cancer Center. KHCC is the region’s only comprehensive cancer center and has invested in improving its facilities, diagnostic technology and access to drugs for treatment in order to provide cutting-edge care to patients. During the press conference following the Sister Institution signing, Mahmoud Sarhan, M.D., director general of KHCC, announced a new initiative to expand patient services by focusing on personalized medicine. Sarhan says KHCC plans to build off collaborative research with MD Anderson to develop a center for personalized medicine. Our multimedia section below has a video of the SI signing and MD Anderson faculty who attended.  

IDC Signing Sparks Excitement about Future Prospects

By all accounts both the Sister Institution signing and the conference that followed on Oct. 27-29, 2011, between MD Anderson and Instituto de Cancerología – Clinica las Américas (IDC) were a success. The event brought praise from both sides and a renewed dedication from leadership at IDC and participating faculty at MD Anderson to work collaboratively on cancer research and education. Alejandro Yepes, IDC’s CFO was especially adamant that IDC was ready and willing to engage with MD Anderson along any possible avenues. Watch the video of IDC in the multimedia section below and keep an eye out for updates on project progress and new projects between MD Anderson and IDC.