P&S Journal: Winter 1995, Vol.15, No.1
The Renaissance Reshaping Cancer at CPMC
By Robin Eisner
After years of dreaming about gene therapy, Dr. Arthur Bank is very close to making his dream come true. Last summer, he and a team of physicians received regulatory approval to begin testing a method to protect cancer patients from chemotherapy's toxic effects by genetically modifying their bone marrow.
This clinical investigation-the first human gene therapy trial at Columbia-is the culmination of almost a decade of research by Dr. Bank, professor of medicine and of genetics and development, and his collaborators both outside and inside the institution. Only a few more legal hurdles remain before the trial can begin.
In addition to being one of a few bone marrow gene therapy trials in the world, the Columbia trial is an example of a novel approach and enhanced commitment to cancer research and treatment under way at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center for the past few years. The new strategy-known as translational research-links basic science findings more directly to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of many cancers. The University and Presbyterian Hospital also have actively recruited more professionals with cancer expertise and have strengthened oncology facilities in outpatient care, radiology, and other areas.
"CPMC has always been a leader in the study of cancer and in providing the best care for patients, but the institution is undergoing a renaissance," says Dr. Herbert Pardes, vice president and dean.
One aspect of this rebirth was the 1993 reorganization of the 21-year-old cancer center, now known as the Columbia-Presbyterian Cancer Center, a name that reflects the collaboration of Columbia University and Presbyterian Hospital. The National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center occupies about 133,000 square feet at CPMC and coordinates a $50 million annual cancer research budget through 230 clinicians and scientists at CPMC and its affiliates. The cancer center's funding represents about 60 percent of the grant support received by Columbia's Health Sciences Division.
Columbia-Presbyterian Cancer Center (CPCC) has four divisions: basic research, clinical research, causation and prevention, and research education. The center finds and fosters research collaboration. Core grants pay for equipment and services and decrease the costs researchers pay. Equipment and services include computing facilities, clinical trials management services, an animal laboratory, and laboratory equipment, such as DNA sequencers. Various committees, internal and external, help administer the cancer center.
"The significant aim of CPCC's transformation is to take technologies developed in the research lab and apply them clinically and, conversely, to take clinical findings and insights and go back to the bench and ask questions about fundamental mechanisms," says CPCC director, Dr. I. Bernard Weinstein, the Frode Jensen Professor of Medicine and professor of public health and of human genetics and development.