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‘Ohana > More OhanaFall 2010 IS Magazine

Cancer Research Center Planned for Hawai‘i

Local residents can anticipate more options for cancer prevention and treatment.

By Lucy Jokiel

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 Carbone.

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.

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