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MD Anderson and The Norwegian Cancer Consortium

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Norwegian Cancer Consortium: Sister Institution and 2012 Host of the Annual GAP Conference 

From April 10-13, 2011 Oliver Bogler, Ph.D., VP of Global Academic Programs and Project Director for GAP, Kelly Hakes, visited Norway to meet with, and hear from, members of GAP’s Sister Institution the Norwegian Cancer Consortium. The NCC and GAP have already fostered a strong relationship, but with Norway hosting the 2012 GAP Conference at locations in both Stavanger and Oslo, the two groups are working to align themselves and increase their collaborative research and communication. Over the coming year, GAP Connect will periodically present articles highlighting the efforts and the people involved in this growing relationship. The first in this series of articles provides an overview of the development of the relationship and the participants.

As with most relationships arising in Houston, the connection between The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Norwegian Cancer Consortium has its roots in oil and gas. In the 1970’s Stavanger, Norway, became one of the main hubs for on-shore activity supporting the North Sea oil boom. Logically, individuals and businesses from Houston made connections in Stavanger, and by 1980 the two were Sister Cities.

Key to strengthening the Sister City and petroleum industry-based relationship has been Leif Johan Sevland, who became Stavanger’s mayor in 1995. He frequently visits Houston and in the course of his business relationships, identified the Texas Medical Center as an opportunity for expanded collaboration between the cities. Ultimately, by facilitating relationships and communication, Sevland helped to establish the Sister Institution agreement between MD Anderson and the Norwegian Cancer Consortium, which consists of The Norwegian Radium Hospital, The Cancer Registry of Norway, both of which are part of the Oslo University Hospital System and Stavanger University Hospital. Signed on May 15, 2007, the Agreement codified years of relationship building and began a period of increased activity and collaboration between the two groups.

During GAP’s recent visit the Mayor continued to show his support for the collaborative engagement, hosting a lunch at Ledaal, the official residence of the King of Norway in Stavanger. Other guests included Bard Lilleeng, Managing Director of Stavanger University Hospital and Jostein Mykletun, The Norwegian Consul General for Houston.

The NCC Members

Stavanger University Hospital

Established in 1927, SUH is the fourth largest hospital in Norway and maintains a mission of patient care, research, and health professional and patient education. SUH has six divisions, is overseen by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and focuses on research to enable better health care.

Stavanger’s Director of Research, Stein Tore Nilsen and other SUH researchers presented GAP’s visitors with an overview of cancer research at the Hospital, including progress in personalized treatment of breast cancer, nursing research, GI surgical research, research in hematology and oncology and collaborative research between MDACC, SUH and Fudan University Cancer Hospital.  Nilsen, Jan Baak, M.D., Ph.D., Bjorn Ogeland, M.D., and Paul Romundstad, Ph.D., are all collaborators with MD Anderson’s Nutritional Epidemiology Working Group and Nilsen and others have worked with prominent MD Anderson faculty such as Michele R Forman, Ph.D. and Professor of Epidemiology. An additional result of the collaboration is research Nilsen points to, which illustrates a reduced risk for breast cancer for both mother and child in women with pre-eclampsia. Although the effect on the mother had previously been illustrated, the reduced risk to the child is a new piece of information.

Radium Hospital

With the merger of several area hospitals, Radium Hospital became part of the Oslo University Hospital (OUH), the largest in Scandinavia. Approximately 50% of all medical and healthcare research in Norway is conducted at OUH and consists of nine divisions with more than 20,000 employees. Within the hospital the Division of Surgery and Cancer Medicine houses several departments, including the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR), which has been conducting cancer research in Norway and abroad since 1954.

ICR’s Scientific Director is Øystein Fodstad, M.D., Ph.D. He also serves as the Director of the Center for Basic and Translational Science at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Cancer Institute, a result, in part to his lengthy research relationship with Michael Boyd, M.D., Ph.D., Director of USA’s Cancer Institute. Fodstad’s personal research focus has been on cancer metastases and has helped develop ICR’s research groups in biochemistry, cell and tumor biology, genetics, radiation biology, immunology and cancer prevention. Faculty at MD Anderson and the Radium hospital have actively been engaged in cooperative research and educational exchanges, and continue to look for common research interests as a basis for collaboration. GAP met with a number of Radium Hospital researchers, and their work and efforts will be highlighted in future issues.

The Cancer Registry of Norway

The Registry has been collecting cancer data in Norway since the beginning of 1952 and receives approximately 225, 000 notifications related to cancer illness a year, approximately 25,000 of which are newly diagnosed notices. All physicians are required to send notices of cancer and suspicion of cancer to the Registry. Responsible for two national screening programs in breast and cervical cancer, the Registry sends out invitations for women between 50 and 69 to receive mammography screening every two years, and letters recommending women between 25 and 69 have a Pap test every three years.

Presenting during GAP’s recent visit to Norway was the new Director of the Registry, Giske Ursin, M.D., Ph.D. Ursin’s research background has focused on hormonal risk factors in breast cancer and breast density in mammography. She has expressed the desire to improve the Registry’s function by increasing communications with the clinical research community throughout Norway and physically positioning the Registry in a location where it can work alongside, and be accessed by, the best cancer researchers in Norway, as well as collaborators across the globe. In the mean time, she is adamant the Registry will work to fulfill its mission of preventing the occurrence of cancer and lessening the suffering caused by cancer.

The Registry is just one aspect of Norway’s cancer data that makes it a unique contributor to cancer research. Norway keeps data from before birth throughout a person’s lifespan and maintains a relatively homogenous population with much less mobility than somewhere like the U.S. In addition the Norwegian Cancer Society maintains the JANUS Serum Bank, which was started in 1972. The Bank has samples from nearly 300,000 people allowing access to research material from as little as a few months to as many as 19 years prior to cancer diagnosis.

The visit to Norway was Bogler’s first and intended to put him face to face with the people on the forefront of cancer research in Norway and in the NCC.

“There have been strong connections between Stavanger and Houston, now those connections extend to Oslo and the rest of Norway,” says Bogler. “When you look at how we conduct research, how everyone in the NCC is interested in the clinical and translational aspects of research, it really does feel like we are sisters with each of the participants in this relationship.”

Members of the NCC and Mayor Sevland left, Kelly Hakes, center, and Oliver Bogler, right.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center