Major forces challenge health care today — increasing shortages of specialty physicians, nurses and allied health care professionals, the aging of our population, lifestyles that put more Americans at risk for illness, escalating medical costs and pressures to reduce those costs, to name a few.
Moreover, in this decade alone, the world will lose a startling 100 million lives to cancer, exceeding the combined impact of cardiovascular disease, tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.
Yet, these challenges come at a time of great hope as we take advantage of new transformative technologies and implement new methods for discovery and care. Millennia from now, I am confident that this period of human history will be viewed as having fundamentally changed the human condition.
The world is calling out to MD Anderson: “Houston, we have a problem.” It is counting on this institution to harness its collective will and wisdom to put this disease in the history books. Given our size, our talent and our singular focus on cancer, we must lead this worldwide effort.
With a strong faculty and work force of more than 18,000, our united mission is to provide the best cancer care today and to achieve great good for humanity by realizing the ultimate goal of conquering this disease.
A powerful confluence
As MD Anderson’s fourth president, I am honored to be part of the change. Last September, I took the reins from the greatest leader in modern cancer medicine, John Mendelsohn, M.D. It is a thrilling and solemn responsibility.
The contributions of the three presidents who preceded me during the past 70 years track well with the evolution of the field of cancer medicine. Their leadership culminated in the Mendelsohn era, a period highlighted by an important emphasis on prevention, the advent of targeted therapy and the promise of personalized cancer care.
There is no question that the field is changing rapidly and that cancer medicine is poised to make a decisive assault on the disease. There is a powerful confluence of knowledge, unprecedented computational firepower, the ability to manipulate genes at will and much more.
First-rate education and strong collaboration
Those of us who aspired to become physician scientists succeeded because we had solid institutional support, mentorship from generous senior faculty, great graduate students and other physician scientists as colleagues.
Experience has taught me that a key ingredient in the formula for institutional success rests not simply on recruiting top students and junior faculty and giving them resources. Rather, we must also provide them with a stimulating educational environment where they can learn how to deliver the world’s best clinical care and conduct breakthrough research.
A major initial focus of my presidency will be to encourage and to educate. This will require time and energy from our gifted senior faculty. With this support, our young scientists should understand that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Throughout my career, I have witnessed the essential role of collaboration in scientific discovery. So, another important focus of my presidency will be to build multidisciplinary, multi-technology teams intent on solving the big problems in cancer, not simply on designing and conducting the next experiment.
Massive change in mindset
In the years ahead, MD Anderson will develop bold and ambitious plans for curing several major cancers, aimed at achieving the same type of success that already has been obtained with childhood leukemia, for example. No one knows how long it will take or precisely how we will accomplish this goal. And it is clear to me that we do not yet have all the basic knowledge or the technology necessary.
Today’s science, however, has reached a point of maturity that permits us to develop such plans and achieve results. The cancer genome project will provide a parts list. Genetics will make that information functional. Sophisticated modeling systems and innovative science-driven clinical trials will illuminate the right targets, the right drugs and the right patients.
History has shown us that if we put our minds and will to a task, the human spirit will prevail. As John F. Kennedy said 50 years ago in his famous speech at Rice University, just down the street from MD Anderson:
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
We cannot postpone the challenge posed by cancer, either. Humanity is counting on us to establish a new paradigm of safe and effective cancer prevention and care for all. The battle lines have been drawn. The will, the wisdom, the courage, the collaborative nature, the desire to win resides within all of us. Our plan is to tap into that human spirit and reach our mission of Making Cancer History®.