Cancer Prevention Benefits From Duncan Family Gift

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Conquest Magazine
Date: Summer 2008 Duration: 04:35

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Ernest Hawk, M.D.:

We’re excited by this gift in particular because of all that prevention can mean not only to our patients but also to future generations and those beyond our doors. Indeed we’ve learned from cardiovascular colleagues that a focus not just on treatment but on prevention as well can afford incredible improvements in the health of our population.  There’s been more than a 50 60% reduction of cardiovascular deaths through the attuned efforts of identifying the key mechanisms of disease and then addressing them through preventive strategies essentially turning risk factors into diseases worthy of intervention themselves. So that now we think of hypertension not just as a risk factor for cardiovascular outcomes but indeed a silent killer the same sort of approach we think will be effective in cancer, understanding the premise of the disease is the key to that future.

The specific allocations that we’ve envisioned for this money fall into six programs, but they really fit together in a discovery to development to delivery cycle of investigation just as you would have in any other area of research and development. Specifically these funds will be used to investigate the role of new technologies to identify risk factors so that we can mitigate those at the earliest possible times. We’ll also use these funds to probe the very earliest steps in cancer development. Many places across the country focus on advanced cancers. This money will allow us to investigate the molecular defects that occur at the earliest steps so that they may be targeted not just for therapy and their ultimate implication there but also in a preventive context. Similarly, we hope to out of this sort of knowledge base coming from a discovery realm translate that into effective prediction models. We already have evidence where Dr. Spitz, Dr. Woo others have translated these into useful tools to assess risk now that can be used to assess people’s risk of lung cancer and bladder cancer for example. We’d like to do that across the full array.  Another program here is the E-Health Initiative that will focus on importance of new technologies to facilitate bidirectional communication. Gathering information from individuals out in the community about their lifestyles their choices that are placing them at risk at one level or another but then also communicating out effective strategies to try to mitigate those risks.  Another initiative here is focused on interacting more effectively with our communities to implement and disseminate our findings. Again with a bidirectional intention of communication and premised both upon research as well as service within those communities. The perfect example there is for example through our current initiative in the Mexican American Cohort Study, where we’ve already enrolled 15,000 individuals.  With these sorts of funds, we hope to increase that to 50,000 individuals so that we’ll really be able to get at some very subtle distinctions in what causes risk and how we can help to prevent it. Next I would like to say that at an institution that’s known for world class treatment, M. D. Anderson, this money will help us to similarly be known in my view for cancer prevention. Indeed already in a research setting, you see evidence of that, but we hope to disseminate that out into the practicing care setting as well.  Indeed every cancer patient has typically three realms of question when they’re diagnosed.  The first is what does this mean for me.  The second often is what does this mean for my family. That’s where prevention can play a very important role in providing answers to that question.  And thirdly, how can I help others to ensure that they don’t follow the path that I’m on. That sort of intrinsic altruism is what brings us to work every day, what makes prevention terribly relevant even at an institution like M. D. Anderson that’s focused so much of its effort and its successes in the therapeutic realm in the past. And finally I’d just like to highlight that these funds will be used to take us to what I believe is an exciting new future in the ultimate goal of prevention, and that’s not just prevention of this cancer or that cancer but cancers more broadly and hopefully even preserve health and prevent a variety of common age related diseases in aging Americans. Indeed, because of commonalities of risk factors as well as the effectiveness of some preventions we’re already gaining insights that that very hopeful future might be able to be realized. And it’s this sort of understanding that your gift will allow us to realize that future. 

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