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KU Cancer Center: A vital part of America's cancer effort

By Kathleen Sebelius 

The Kansas City Star
July 12, 2012

Almost all of us will be touched by cancer at some point in our lives. For me, the first experience came when I was 11 and watched my aunt die of breast cancer, leaving behind her five children. She was 33 years old. In total, cancer takes the lives of more than 575,000 Americans each year.

And with nearly 12 million Americans living with cancer today and another one and a half million expected to get a new cancer diagnosis at some point this year, our work to develop better cancer treatments, more effective detection methods, and ultimately, a cure, has never been more urgent.

That’s why I was so proud to announce on Thursday that the University of Kansas Cancer Center was selected to join the prestigious ranks of National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers.

These cancer centers are our country’s elite cancer research facilities. Selected through a rigorous process by the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, they serve as America’s engine of discovery about the nature of cancer and the development of more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Nearly every new cancer drug brought to market in the past decade has been based on research conducted at one of these centers.

That the University of Kansas Medical Center is now joining this select group is a tribute to the world-class work that they do.

As a cancer center, KU will now be able to apply for federal research grants for the country’s most advanced research institutions. Having a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in Kansas will also give patients in Kansas and the region access to pioneering treatments and clinical trials.

And it will continue to be a growth factor for the state’s economy. Since 2006, KU leaders estimate that the investment to earn the cancer center designation has created more than 1,000 jobs and contributed $453 million to the region’s economy.

But most importantly of all, this Center will be an important addition to our national research network that is generating promising breakthroughs in our battle against cancer.

It was studies at cancer centers that led to FDA approval, last year, of an antibody, ipilimumab, which extends the lives of patients with metastatic melanoma. Other studies are making progress in areas like targeting treatments more effectively, so that that chemotherapy attacks cancer cells without harming the healthy cells nearby. And these centers are especially effective at translating laboratory findings into life-saving treatments and diagnostics.

With a new generation of high-tech tools at our disposal, and with a greater understanding of the genetic basis of cancer, we are entering a new era of cancer research and treatment. Our National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers are uniquely positioned to advance this effort. It’s great news for Kansans and all Americans that the University of Kansas Cancer Center will be joining this work. Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

Kathleen Sebelius is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary and former Kansas governor.