KU Cancer Center update

August 09, 2013

More than a year has passed since we announced that The University of Kansas Cancer Center had achieved National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, meeting a research goal that had been a priority for the entire University of Kansas for nearly a decade. Since that announcement last July, Roy Jensen and his team have been working hard at the business of being an NCI-designated center - and making strategic plans to rise to the next level. NCI-designated cancer centers have to reapply for NCI status every five years, and when the KU Cancer Center submits its renewal application, Dr. Jensen plans to seek the NCI's highest possible designation: Comprehensive Cancer Center. Right now, 41 of the 68 NCI-designated centers have comprehensive status.

Our current designation was awarded because we demonstrated excellence in basic science and clinical research. To obtain Comprehensive Cancer Center designation, we must show successful research efforts focusing on prevention, education and outreach. In the years ahead, we will need to show the NCI that our researchers understand cancer from a community standpoint. We will place greater focus on epidemiology and population sciences so we can delve deeper into the prevalence and causes of cancer in our state, especially among underserved and minority populations. We need to fully understand the lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that influence cancer incidence and survival in Kansas and the region. Most importantly, we have to demonstrate that as a cancer center, we have taken the lead in decreasing the burden of cancer in our region.

The KU Cancer Center is well-positioned to succeed in this effort thanks to its strong partnership and outreach to communities through the Midwest Cancer Alliance. And the cancer center already has exemplary strengths in this area, namely the Cancer Control and Population Health Program led by Ed Ellerbeck, who is also chair of KU Medical Center's Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, and Kim Engleman, associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. Drs. Ellerbeck and Engleman and their teams are especially strong in efforts to help entire communities stop smoking and decrease other cancer risk factors (for example, in April Won Choi and his colleagues were awarded a $2.7 million, five-year NCI grant to create an Internet-based program to help American Indian tribal college students stop smoking - you can read more about that here).

I know Dr. Jensen is relentless when he is in pursuit of a goal, and the clock in his office is already counting down the days until his team applies for Comprehensive Cancer Center status (1,135 days). But I'd like to take a few precious minutes to share with the rest of our campus community some highlights from the cancer center's first year of NCI designation.

At the KU Clinical Research Center (CRC) in Fairway, the number of patients enrolled in early phase trials, where drugs are tested for the first time in humans, is up by approximately 50 for the first half of 2013. The CRC has had a significant impact on KU's early phase trials activity. Since the CRC opened in January 2012, average monthly enrollment of patients in early phase trials has more than doubled, compared to the average figure over the five preceding years. Patients have called from all over Kansas - and all over the country, from as far away as Alaska, and from other cancer centers including the Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson - seeking information about whether they are eligible to participate in these trials. Numerous pharmaceutical company clients and other collaborators have visited the CRC to monitor studies, discuss potential new studies, conduct pre-study site visits and study initiation visits, or to simply see the new facility. 

On the research side, the cancer center made 29 hires in the last year; on the clinical side there are 142 new employees.

Also on the clinical side, in the most recent U.S. News Best Hospitals list, cancer care jumped from 37th to 27th in the country. Particularly noteworthy is the incredible growth in blood and marrow transplants: the number of bone and marrow transplants performed in 2012 was up 7 percent from the previous year, and the number of new patients enrolled in bone marrow transplant clinical trials was up 8 percent. All of the former Kansas City Cancer Center sites are now officially branded as locations of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, and in addition to many other expansions of cancer treatment services, Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing provides services to address the psychological, social, emotional and physical needs that go along with serious or chronic illnesses.

There are many more accomplishments I could cite, but I imagine Dr. Jensen has already grown impatient with the time I've taken away from his countdown clock.

Biomedical research institutions across the country face cutbacks in federal funding as a result of sequestration, so earning NCI and NIH grants will only become more difficult in the coming years. I know that Dr. Jensen won't back down from the challenges ahead. As he told the Kansas City Business Journal last month: "If we rest on our laurels and do nothing, the incidence of cancer in our region will double by the year 2030. We don't want to sit around and let that happen. We need to reverse that trend now."

Last modified: Aug 09, 2013