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Friday, November 17, 2000

Cancer center
receives $10.5 mil
to expand research

The grant nearly triples the
center's funding from the
National Cancer Institute

By Helen Altonn

The Cancer Research Center of Hawaii has received a a $10.5 million grant over five years, a nearly threefold increase in funding from the National Cancer Institute to support and develop new programs.

The "significantly enhanced level of funding recognizes the high quality of research conducted by Cancer Center faculty," said Dr. Carl-Wilhelm Vogel, director of the research center.

He said it "also represents an obligation, not only to continue on our path of excellence, but also to expand our activities in several important areas, notably in patient-oriented research and clinical trials."

The grant is used for research to develop innovative approaches in cancer prevention and treatment.

It provides partial funding for key senior staff, program directors, administrative and development purposes.

But individual research projects are supported through competitive grants and contracts. The national grants are based on a center's success in obtaining individually funded research projects.

Annual extramural funding at the Hawaii center jumped from $8 million in 1996 to $17 million this year -- a ratio of 8.5 federal dollars for every dollar of state support.

When Vogel became center director last spring, he set renewal of the national support grant as a major goal.

Now, said Dr. Robert Cooney, assistant director for scientific administration, "Dr. Vogel is interested in taking us to the next level by increasing our direct dealings with patients, through perhaps establishment of an outpatient clinic of some sort to facilitate clinical studies conducted here at the center."

But there is no room for expansion at the center's site next to the Queen's Medical Center at 1236 Lauhala St., he said.

"Even with existing research, we're at the breaking point right now. Some operations are located off-site. We're in desperate need of a bigger building."

More than 200 people work in the center, including 20 full-time faculty members. The Hawaii center is one of only 59 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the nation.

It has made major contributions to the knowledge of cancer, with research related to understanding why cells become cancerous and the role of diet in causing or preventing cancer, particularly in Hawaii's multiethnic population.

Genes associated with increased risk of cancer in Hawaii's population have been identified in recent studies.

The center also offers clinical trials to island cancer patients and is the only institution in the state providing access to national clinical trials for children and adults.

Only 2.3-2.5 percent of Hawaii adults diagnosed with cancer participate in clinical trials, compared to 3-5 percent nationally, the center says.

But 75 percent of children with cancer in Hawaii participate in trials vs. a 60 percent average nationally, and more than 70 percent of children with cancer are cured.

"Clinical trials are the best and quickest way to make advances in cancer care through evidence-based medicine," said Dr. Robert Wilkinson, pediatric oncologist. "Children's cancer survivor rates are better than adults' because most of our patients are on clinical trials."

Cooney said there is a lot of interest in the genetic basis of cancer and the center's epidemiology unit is working on that.

"We're unique among the cancer centers in that we have such a strong epidemiology program," he said. "Hopefully, we can identify genes that we may not be aware of contributing to cancer risks.

"A lot of new technology has come on board in the last few years. ... It allows you to look at an unbelievable amount of genetic information that you can't get now."

Linking genetics and diet with cancer "is going to be really important," Cooney added. "It will allow us to start giving people more tailored information about things they can do to reduce their risk."

Cancer Research Center of Hawaii

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