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Victory is sweet in Super Bowl challenge won by the KU Cancer Center

United in their fight against cancer, divided over who should be Super Bowl champions, prestigious cancer centers in Kansas City and Philadelphia enjoy friendly rivalry.

Dr. Roy Jensen wears a Chiefs jersey and hat while sitting in an upholstered chair holding seven different boxes and bags of chips, cakes and snacks.
Roy Jensen, M.D., vice chancellor and director of the KU Cancer Center, with just a portion of the spoils from the friendly wager between the KU Cancer Center and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center

While the sporting world has moved on from the Super Bowl LVII to the NCAA Final Fours, the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory continues to be extra sweet for The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

Leading up to the Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, Roy Jensen, M.D., vice chancellor and director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center, challenged his Philadelphia-based counterpart, Andrew Chapman, D.O., director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) at Jefferson Health, to a friendly wager. Both direct cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) — one near the home of the Chiefs and one near the home of the Eagles. It was barbeque versus sweet snacks and Philly cheesesteaks. Thanks to Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones, Jensen will be enjoying the spoils of the victor for quite a while.

When it comes to fighting cancer, both organizations are working together and even have plans to collaborate. When it comes to favorite quarterbacks, what color to wear on Sundays or what kind of food to have at a Super Bowl party — there is significant disagreement.

“Never bet against Patrick Mahomes and a healthy Chief’s offensive line,” Jensen said, noting that Chapman will be sporting a Chiefs jersey at the annual meeting of the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) in October.

More in common than good football

While the KU Cancer Center is located in Kansas City, Kansas, and Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the two renowned academic medical centers have more in common than it would appear. Both are NCI-designated cancer centers, and both serve regions (called catchment areas by the NCI) that are struggling with higher incidence of cancer and higher mortality rates than the national average.

Dr. Roy Jensen stands at left, Chiefs player Chris Jones stands at right, with a football sculpture between them

Chiefs eighth-year defensive tackle Chris Jones, pictured
here with Jensen, helped bring home the bounty for the
KU Cancer Center with a win in Super Bowl LVII.

The KU Cancer Center’s catchment area includes the entire state of Kansas and the western 18 counties in Missouri covering 4.5 million people.  A unique aspect of the KU Cancer Center’s catchment area is that three-fourths of the counties served are rural or frontier, making access to cancer prevention, screening, treatment and survivorship a key issue. Tobacco also is a key issue, with Kansas and Missouri having higher rates of smokers compared to the U.S. overall.

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center’s catchment area encompasses more than 5 million residents across four counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, as well as three counties in southern New Jersey. Lack of access is one of the most common barriers to cancer screening, with one-quarter of Philadelphia households lacking transportation to health care appointments.

Rivals on the field, collaborators in the lab

The two cancer centers are putting the good-natured rivalries aside to collaborate, as researchers from both are already working jointly on multiple grants and are applying for more.

Danny Welch, Ph.D., professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the KU Cancer Center, is working with Isidore Rigoutsos, Ph.D., founding director of the Computational Medicine Center at Thomas Jefferson University and professor of pathology and genomic medicine at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.  They hope to combine their expertise in big data analysis and cancer biology to understand metastasis at the mitochondrial level. They have partnered to work on projects involving a recently identified class of molecules as they relate to breast cancer. The molecules, termed tRNA fragments, appear to be responsible for signaling from the mitochondria to the nucleus and to other cells.

Yet another connection is that Dr. Jensen serves on the SKCC external advisory board.  “One of the areas where we are the same is our passion to fight cancer,” Jensen said. “We are all united in that fight together.” 

Perhaps one day, the two cancer centers will be known for their combined groundbreaking research to defeat cancer. In the meantime, Jensen is overseeing a refrigerator full of Philly cheesesteaks and planning a party.

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