This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  November 5, 2001

Health Center Upgrading Cancer Program

W ith all the players in place, the Health Center is upgrading its cancer program to a Type II Center.

The players consist of faculty members, many from departments and divisions merely envisioned five years ago, including Genetics and Developmental Biology, Human Medical Genetics, Cytogenetics, and the Center for Molecular Medicine.

The program has been designated by the University a Type II Center, a designation approved by the Board of Trustees, which provides non-typical organization and administration for programs that "cannot flourish within existing academic structures."

In the case of the cancer program, the designation eases horizontal integration between various departments, divisions, and programs. The director will report to the medical dean.

The program director is Pramod Srivastava, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Immunotherapy of Cancer and Infectious Diseases. Robert Bona, a professor of medicine and director of the Division of Hematology-Oncology, is the program's medical director; and Douglas Peterson, professor and head of the Department of Oral Diagnosis and associate director of the UConn Cancer Center, is the education director.

"The UConn Cancer Center is not just about clinical care," says Peter Deckers, executive vice president and dean of the School of Medicine. "Clinical care alone is reactive to disease and occasionally successful.

"We, the cancer program at UCHC, must integrate research advances and the finest education in oncology in such a way as to impact cancer care in a remarkable new way unavailable anywhere else. I believe we, and we alone, have that capability," Dr. Deckers says.

The Type II Center builds on a well established foundation. Cancer care is one of the Health Center's four signature programs, which emphasize the integration of research and clinical care.

"The clinical programs of the cancer center will offer a full service of cancer care. However, we would ideally like to concentrate our clinical research on areas that are not readily available in the local community." says Dr. Bona. "We would then be able to provide clinical care and opportunities for patients that are not routinely accessible in our immediate medical community."

Recruitment of certain faculty and establishment of innovative and relevant research programs was part of the Health Center's strategic plan. Several years of strategizing, planning, and recruitment come to fruition in the Type II Center.

Dr. Srivastava says the designation wasn't just important, it was essential.

"Most centers are centers on paper," he says. "No one has authority and no one has accountability. You can't succeed like that. A center cannot be run by seven different departments; there has to be accountability and authority."

The research component of the center combines the diagnostic inquiries pursued by the departments and divisions mentioned above, with research into treatments. Srivastava's CICID is exploring the use of heat shock proteins and vaccines to treat cancer and infectious disease, while other researchers, such as Timothy Hla, a professor of physiology, are exploring treatments that retard cancer growth by denying blood to tumors.

The center and its patients will participate in clinical trials and translational research - investigations that move research from the lab bench to the bedside. Judith Kulko will coordinate the research. Christine Kaminski will be the center administrator.

The center has a vital educational role, too. In addition to patient, family, and medical student education, the center will promote basic and translational research seminars, pre- and post-doctoral courses, and continuing education for health professionals.

"This is an outstanding new model for the Health Center in my opinion," says Dr. Peterson. "Given the complex, rapidly changing advances in cancer in the scientific community, it is essential that new paradigms for cancer care, research and education be implemented.

"The new Type II Center is aligned with this contemporary environment," he says. "The center brings the requisite administrative and scientific structure necessary for the Health Center to play a leadership role in regional, national and international arenas over time."

Srivastava agrees the center can play a leading role: "My aim for the next five years is to become one of the five to 10 top cancer centers nationwide," he says. "That is an extremely tall order, but all the ingredients are here or could be brought in here.

"We must all work very hard at it, but nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Deckers, too, is confident about the future.

"I believe the future is in gene analysis and then in molecular medicine, and I believe the UConn Cancer Center is uniquely positioned to be a leader in both," he says. "We are unencumbered by divisional or departmental bureaucracy or by individualism and we are committed to success."

Pat Keefe