The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center has a new director, a new building dedicated to research, new commitments from CUMC and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, and new financial support from legendary donors Herbert and Florence Irving. InVivo spoke with the Center's new director, Riccardo Dalla-Favera, M.D., the Percy and Joanne Uris Professor of Genetics and Development and Pathology, about his goals for expanding and revamping the Cancer Center.
Riccardo Dalla-Favera, M.D.
Why is this a good time to expand the Cancer Center?
We now face a historic moment in cancer research. In the last 20 years there has been enormous progress in research in understanding how cancer develops. We now know that cancer is a genetic disease in the sense that it arises from multiple lesions in the genes of the cell. We also know that cancer consists of many diseases that differ in the way lesions are generated and in the way genes are altered. Many of these genes have been identified, and we're beginning to design more selective cancer drugs based on those genetic defects. The impact of new therapies is just starting to be felt, but a much bigger impact is expected in the next 5 to 10 years.
The Center is not only getting bigger, it's also changing. How so?
Our highest priority is designing the center to bring together clinical work and basic research. We must create an environment where scientists believe that they can develop new therapies and clinicians are ready to test what comes from the scientists. This is the quickest way to improve therapies.
Over the next five years we will be recruiting five to six new faculty who have translational research expertise. And in the next few months we hope to name a new chief of medical oncology who can help lead this effort.
We also must appoint a chairman for the Department of Radiation Oncology and increase the number of cancer surgeons, since cancer is still primarily a surgical disease.
What makes the Center comprehensive, and will that designation continue?
Being a Comprehensive Cancer Center requires us to reach out to our community to educate, promote ways to prevent cancer, and improve care. We must remember that cancer is not just oncogenes and the loss of suppressor genes but it involves people who have different cultures, lifestyles and beliefs about their disease and the effectiveness of treatment. We have many excellent community programs and research projects that address inequities in care and those will continue to be strengthened.
Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the director of the National Cancer Institute, has made a commitment to eliminate suffering and death due to cancer by 2015…can it be done?
A very ambitious commitment. For some types of cancer this goal may be fulfilled rather soon by either a complete cure or by rendering cancer a chronically manageable disease. The NCI is investing major resources in this effort, which is going to be implemented mainly through the work of NCI-designated Cancer Centers like ours. We are facing exciting times in oncology and our contributions should be second to none.