Thousands of families in Hawai‘i are affected each year by cancer, which is
the second leading cause of death in the Islands and the nation. About 6,700 local
residents will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 2,500 of them will
die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society – Hawaii.
If current initiatives by the Cancer Research Center of Hawai‘i (CRCH), a
research unit of the University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Manoa, are successful,
more options will be available to treat cancer patients throughout the Islands.
“I have made the development of the new cancer research center one of the
highest priorities for the university,” says UH President M.R.C. Greenwood.
The first step in CRCH’s vision took place late this summer when ground was
broken for a state-of-the-art research and clinical trials facility on 5.5 acres
of land in Kaka‘ako adjacent to UH’s John A. Burns School of Medicine
(JABSOM). It is scheduled for completion in fall 2013. Maui state Sen. Roz Baker,
who is a cancer survivor, was instrumental in helping the CRCH gain funding for
the new center with appropriations from a state law increasing cigarette prices.
CRCH is one of 65 National Cancer Institute (NCI) centers in the nation. The designation
brings grant funding that allows the center to continue its research in epidemiology,
cancer biology, natural products, prevention and control, and carcinogenesis (the
process by which normal cells are transformed into cancer cells).
The CRCH directs more than 100 cancer research projects and conducts more than 200
clinical trials. These organized studies of qualified individuals with cancer often
lead to better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat cancer. “We want to reduce
the need for cancer patients to travel to the Mainland to find a clinical trial
that matches their needs,” says CRCH Director Michele Carbone, M.D., Ph.D.
In addition to developing a clinical program built around treating patients in a
clinical setting, Carbone’s strategy is to form a collaboration between physicians
and scientists working on clinical cancer research within the state’s existing
hospital systems. This involves combining the resources and expertise of JABSOM,
The Queen’s Medical Center, Hawai‘i Pacific Health, and Kuakini Health
System. “This partnership is critical to our providing a cancer center that
can serve Hawai‘i, first to prevent cancer and then to take care of those
who develop cancer,” says Carbone.
In this matrix-style model, center-based researchers work with the oncologists who
provide patient care in community hospitals and clinics to improve cancer diagnosis
and treatment. “This allows us to better translate laboratory findings to
the clinical setting, expand clinical trials, and improve care options for cancer
patients,” says Carbone. Perhaps within a decade, he adds, the status of the
CRCH will be elevated to NCI’s highest label – “comprehensive
cancer center,” which is awarded to centers of exceptional scientific excellence.
In the meantime, CRCH has hired world-class physician researchers, including oncologist
Clayton Chong, liver and transplant specialist Linda Wong, and former deputy director
of the Nevada Cancer Institute David Ward. “We are recruiting distinguished
researchers whose laboratory findings will be applied to patient care,” says
Ultimately, the goal of the CRCH research facility is to offer state-of-the-art
preventive and therapeutic approaches to the community and at the patient’s
bedside. “By working in synergy with the major hospitals in the state, with
their physicians, and with other cancer organizations, we will better understand,
prevent and eventually cure cancer,” says Carbone.