Last year, on Sept. 21, 2012, MD Anderson took another step toward fulfilling our mission of Making Cancer History when we officially launched our Moon Shots Program.
This ambitious and innovative program seeks to significantly reduce themortality rates for several cancers -- including melanoma, triple-negative breast, high-grade serous ovarian, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), lung and prostate-- and ultimately find cures for these and other cancers.
Over the last year, the Moon Shots Program provided a tremendous boostto cancer research. My colleagues at MD Anderson and I have spent the last 12 months collaborating to make significant advancements for our patients as well as those patients not yet diagnosed.
Meaningful progress made in thefirst year
The Moon Shots Program became a reality after MD Anderson's president Ronald DePinho, M.D., issued a formidable challenge to our doctors and researchers: to develop a comprehensive action plan to significantly increase survival rates of cancer patients in the near-term and accelerate cures in the long-term.
Ultimately, six teams were chosen to implement their plans, with each team focusing on a different disease site. (One team is working on both AML and MDS since MDS patients often go on to develop AML; another team is working on both triple-negative breast and high-grade serous ovarian cancer since these two cancers share similar genetic causes.) Each team has recruited colleagues from across MD Anderson to collaborate on how to best make progress.
I have been extremely impressed by the energy being put forward by researchers across MD Anderson. The work these teams are doing is improving our ability to conduct genomic and proteomic analysis, to study immune function and to incorporate massive amounts of data. These collaborative efforts are essential to accelerating our research.
The Moon Shots look at the entire cancer continuum from prevention, early detection, treatment and survival. Each team has feasible goals for prolonging and improving patients' lives within the next year while planning for a cure of the specific cancer.
These are not just abstract goals. I am happy to report that in some diseases this is becoming a reality.
While substantial progress will not be made overnight, it is clear that meaningful advances were made during the first year. To name just a few:
- Clinical trials with targeted therapies were launched.
- State legislation was enacted to restrict the use of tanning beds in Texas.
- Patient samples have been collected and analyzed to determine genetic signatures of disease.
- Scientists are looking for biomarkers to predict the best treatment for our patients.
Providing better treatment options and hope for cancer patients
The Moon Shots Program is a multi-year effort. All of us working on the moon shots are looking to find the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. The Moon Shots Program is improving our ability to identify the specific patients who will most benefit from certain therapies.
Some of the cancers in the Moon Shots Program are closer to the goal line than others. However, we are all looking for ways to best manage the diseases and leave patients with a high quality of life and a normal life span.
With the knowledge we are gaining through our work on the moon shots, we hope to find cures for all cancers, not just those we are initially targeting as part of the Moon Shots Program.
Ultimately, it's not just MD Anderson patients who will benefit from the work of the Moon Shots Program. We believe patients around the world will benefit as well.
As a physician, I never want to prescribe a treatment plan that will not work. The Moon Shots Program is generating data to help us best advise our patients on treatment options. Personally, I hope that having a stronger rationale for selecting a treatment will reduce exposing some patients to the damaging side effects of an unbeneficial treatment and reduce the number of patients that develop second cancers.
The Moon Shots Program has fueled our efforts to tackle these diseases and make these aspirations a reality. True progress depends on the clinicians and researchers invested in the cause as well as your willingness to take part in our mission of a cure. Even modest success will allow many patients to fulfill life's dreams and to participate in enriching family events.
We are committed to the challenge and making progress each day.
Michael Keating, M.D., is professor of medicine and internist ofLeukemia and co-leader of MD Anderson's CLL Moon Shot. Learn more about MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program to end cancer.