The Duke Cancer Institute: A Vehicle for Hope

Laura Bruck
Published: Friday, Oct 14, 2011
The Duke Cancer Institute

Ongoing construction of the new cancer building at Duke, scheduled to open February 2012.

For more than 75 years, the cancer programs of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, have been at the forefront of research and patient care, with more than 800 researchers, physicians, and clinical staff serving nearly 6000 new patients each year from the United States and abroad. In 1972, Duke’s cancer program was designated as one of the nation’s 8 original comprehensive cancer centers by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and is today one of only 40 such centers nationwide. Ranked as one of the top cancer hospitals in the United States for nearly 20 years by US News & World Report, Duke attracts the best cancer clinicians and scientists from across the country and around the world, and maintains clinical and research partnerships throughout the United States, as well as in India, China, and Singapore.

Those familiar with Duke’s stellar reputation are well aware of the accolades, honors, and achievements credited to its cancer researchers, clinicians, and academicians, but few milestones have inspired the kind of excitement being generated by the November 2010 formation of the new Duke Cancer Institute (DCI). The DCI brings together clinicians, researchers, and educators from across Duke’s hospital, medical school, and health system under a single administrative umbrella. This, in turn, intimately links patient care, research, and medical training in a unified pursuit. A new cancer center building is scheduled to open in February 2012, and a new leader, Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD, was named to the Institute’s helm in May.

Already, DCI promises to have a profound impact on both cancer research and patient care. By providing unprecedented and unique opportunities for teamwork between Duke’s scientists and caregivers, the reorganization aims to more quickly translate novel therapies from bench to bedside and to optimize all aspects of patient care. The most important of its goals is to provide patients with a less tangible but equally critical tool in the battle against their cancers: hope. The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center and the Duke Prostate Center (DPC) serve as 2 prime examples.

The Center’s 250-plus scientists, physicians, nurses, and other staff have at their disposal the resources of a leading research hub at the cutting edge of translational medicine, providing them with the means to offer patients the latest treatment advances, as well as access to a range of clinical trials, including those examining the efficacy of stem cell therapy and cancer vaccines. Equally important is the Center’s reputation for providing the compassionate support needed by patients and their families living with brain and spinal cancers.

Henry S. Friedman, MD

Henry S. Friedman, MD

The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center

Using the words “brain cancer” and “hope” in the same sentence may seem counterintuitive, but neuro-oncologist Henry S. Friedman, MD, co-director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, does so routinely and unabashedly.

“Everything we do for our patients is doomed to fail unless we’re able to offer them hope,” he said, “and the formation of the new Institute is helping to translate ‘hope’ from nebulous concept to concrete reality.”

Established in 1937 as one of the nation’s first brain tumor research and clinical programs, the Duke program was renamed the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center in 2005 in recognition of a $10 million gift from the Tisch family. Today, the Center is one of the world’s leading adult and pediatric neuro-oncology centers, and has received the NCI’s highest rating of “outstanding” for each of the last 10 years.

“The philosophy of hope has always formed the foundation for the care we provide at the Center,” said Friedman, who considers brain and spinal cancers curable until proven otherwise. “This is a guiding principle that necessarily comes from the top down, and is continually nourished and sustained among veteran staff and new hires.” He went on to note that, even for patients living with these most feared of all malignancies, the brain tumor center’s integral role in the DCI fosters hope with an exchange of ideas and research findings that will speed the pace of discovery.

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