Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Established in 1970 as a small clinic for cancer patients, the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center was named for football coach Vince Lombardi, who was treated for cancer at Georgetown University Hospital. In 1974 Georgetown Lombardi became the nation’s 16th National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center, and today remains the only such designated center in the Washington, DC, area. It has since evolved into a state-of-the-art center housing more than 240,000 square feet of clinic and Innovative Steps Toward Individualized Treatment research space, and is part of both Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital.
Today, 500-plus staff members, including 175 clinicians and researchers, work together to “improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future.” Evidence of the commitment to this mission can be found in every aspect of patient care and research at Georgetown Lombardi, but it is especially apparent in 2 new innovative programs that promise to significantly advance both research and patient care: the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers and the Georgetown Database of Cancer (G-DOC).
John L. Marshall, MD
The Ruesch Center
Now in its second year of operation, the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers has its roots in the philanthropic gift of Jeanne W. Ruesch, whose husband Otto died of pancreatic cancer. “Mrs Ruesch was determined that her gift be used to make a meaningful difference for those with GI cancers, and challenged us to bring to fruition what we envisioned as the ideal research-driven GI cancer center,” said John L. Marshall, MD, director of the Ruesch Center.
That challenge was especially intriguing to Marshall, who was painfully familiar with some very real shortcomings. “Awareness about GI cancers has been sorely lacking,” he said, “and our tendency to treat everyone’s GI cancers as if they were the same disease amounts to ignoring the ‘molecular elephant in the room.’” As Marshall and his team set about the task of making the ideal GI cancer center a reality, they did so based on a 2-pronged approach: to raise awareness among patients and advocates and to improve overall translational research for this group of cancers that, collectively, remains the number 1 cancer killer.
A significant piece of the initial funding was used to develop the Ruesch Center’s nurse navigator program, in which specially trained oncology nurses guide each patient through the treatment experience, ensuring that they see the right people at the right times. To date, efforts to increase awareness have included hosting periodic scientific symposia that bring to the forefront issues being grappled with by the research community, as well as patient– and caregiveroriented symposia that feature educational lectures on GI cancer research, nutrition, and wellness given by physicians and specialists. The Ruesch Center is also an active champion for GI cancer causes in the community, partnering with other advocacy groups in support of Washington, DC-area events to help drum up funding and support for GI cancer research.
“To say that there’s room for improvement in the area of treatment innovation for GI cancers is an understatement,” said Anton Wellstein, MD, PhD, Georgetown Lombardi’s associate director for basic science. Wellstein described survival rates for patients with pancreatic cancer as dismal, and noted that outcomes for patients with colorectal cancer have improved very little over the past 20 years.
“The opening of the Ruesch Center has given us the opportunity to bring together research and clinical practice, to use all our muscle to improve outcomes, and to determine which patients will most likely benefit from existing treatments and those in the pipeline,” he said. “Individualized therapy is the bottom line.”