Not-for-profits aid in the fight against cancer

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Deborah Held Maslia Contributing writer
Friday, July 18, 2008

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in Georgia — a state with one of the highest rates of cancer in the country, according to the Georgia Cancer Coalition.

Not-for-profit organizations are stepping up to make Georgia better known as the state with cutting-edge cancer research programs.

Scientists are looking to better understand human genetics and single-cell, targeted therapies in the hopes of answering questions such as who gets cancer, why cancers develop differently in different people and how to better pinpoint cancer for treatment.

Together with Georgia’s nonprofit cancer networks, such as Atlanta-based American Cancer Society (ACS), the Georgia Cancer Coalition and others, researchers are striving to make their services available to all Georgians, as the key for early detection and prevention in the fight against cancer.

“Looking forward, we’re going to get to the place where we find cancer well before we see it,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of cancer control science for the national home office of the American Cancer Society. “The goal is to recognize and focus on a single stem cell.”

“The nanotechnology aspect holds great promise for early diagnosis and treatment.”

Statistically, a person diagnosed with cancer today has a 67 percent chance of surviving for five years, said Lichtenfeld, who also says that is not good enough.

With about 11 million cancer survivors in the U.S., clinicians are also examining survivorship issues.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects from the therapies we give,” Lichtenfeld said.

Other related issues to be considered include quality of life, career, pain management and even the likely shortage of health-care professionals in the future.

Understanding the single cell is also central to innovative long-term cancer therapies.

“We need to get our treatments to the right people; we need to make sure they’re getting the right treatment,” said Lichtenfeld.

Studies involving better ways to use the tools already in use in cancer treatment are especially valuable, such as the Calypso 4-D Localization System, currently in use at Emory University‘s Winship Cancer Institute.

According to Dr. Peter Rossi, assistant professor in radiation oncology and urology at the Emory University School of Medicine, the Calypso System, combined with the university’s most recent use of 3-D image-guided radiation therapy, allows for the most exact pinpointing of radiation delivery to date. By tracking the movement of tiny implants, doctors are able to better understand the real-time movement of a tumor while administering radiation, thereby minimizing complications from unintended irradiation of neighboring and normal tissue.

The latest figures, as of Jan. 1, show that the American Cancer Society is funding more than $9 million in cancer research grants at medical institutions in Georgia, said Elissa McCrary, communications and marketing director for the state of Georgia for the ACS. Recipients of these grants include Emory University, Georgia State University, the Medical College of Georgia,

Morehouse School of Medicine and The University of Georgia.

Since the organization’s inception in 1946, the ACS has granted about $3.1 billion in research dollars across the U.S., according to its Web site. Annually, the organization is the largest source of private, not-for-profit cancer research funds in the U.S., second only to the federal government in total dollars spent. In 2005, the society spent nearly $131 million in research.

The ACS in particular takes pride in funding young, up-and-coming researchers, said Lichtenfeld. As a result, the organization now counts 40 Nobel Prize Laureates among its funded researchers.

United in the quest to make Georgia the nation’s most promising state for cancer care through continued research, the Georgia Cancer Coalition is also known for its recruitment of top cancer scholars from throughout the country to Georgia’s research universities, hospitals and nursing programs through the Distinguished Cancer Clinicians and Scientists Program. Since its inception in 2001, the coalition has helped to recruit 125 such scholars, who were, in turn, responsible for securing more than $200 million in privately and federally funded research grants.

In fiscal year 2007, these scholars generated $47 million in grants. As part of the consideration process, a potential scholar’s future grant-earning potential is heavily weighed. The sponsoring hospital or research institution also agrees to match grants dollar for dollar, making this program one whose value grows exponentially over time.

“It’s important for people to understand they need to investigate what’s available in their own area,” said Karen Packard, manager of oncology research at Saint Joseph’s Hospital and program coordinator for the Atlanta Regional Community Clinical Oncology Program (ARCCOP). “Many times they have access as well.”

As a co-op among eight regional area hospitals, ARCCOP participates in trials funded by the National Cancer Institutes, said Packard, focusing on “the most common cancers,” including prostate, lung, colorectal and other gastrointestinal cancers. One hundred thirty doctors are involved in the studies among the eight participating institutions.

With the mission of expanding clinical cancer research across Georgia and increasing patient access to it, the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE) has developed the first reference guide to the state’s oncology community.

The free directory includes a listing of more than 500 statewide oncologists, and an overview of clinical cancer research in Georgia.

The directory can be found at cancer service locations across the state, or can be downloaded at Georgia CORE was founded by the Georgia Cancer Coalition and the Georgia Society for Clinical Oncology.

“This has to go back to basics,” said Lichtenfeld. “We can’t ignore the role of prevention and early detection.”

Additionally, Georgians living in rural parts of the state, and those without adequate health insurance, need the same access to quality health care, he said.

“We’ve made progress, but we can do better.”

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