Cancer center achieves NCI designation

After a 12-year, $70-million effort, UC Davis Cancer Center has achieved National Cancer Institute designation, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Gov. Gray Davis announced at a joint press conference July 2 at the center. The cancer center becomes one of just 20 NCI-designated programs west of the Mississippi and the only one between San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

"As the only NCI-designated cancer center in this region, UC Davis Cancer Center will have an impact that extends far beyond its own walls, across Northern and Central California," Boxer said via satellite. "(It) will serve as a valuable local, regional and national resource in our battle against this disease."

The NCI, the nation's top cancer organization, awards designation only to cancer institutions with the demonstrated potential to make major scientific contributions to the war against cancer. Granted after an exhaustive review process, the coveted distinction assures selected centers an ongoing, stable stream of federal research support to help them lead the nation's cancer research effort.

Besides prestige, the designation comes with a $1.2 million grant for each of the next three years. After that, officials expect to receive as much as $20 million a year in extra funding from the NCI and other sources. The NCI currently supports nearly $9 million a year in cancer research at UC Davis. Total outside funding for the university's integrated cancer research program now approaches more than $43.4 million.

UC Davis Cancer Center's year-old research partnership with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the first of its kind in the nation, was a key factor in winning designation. In that partnership, physicians and scientists work to turn technology developed for the defense industry into new cancer therapies, detection methods and prevention strategies.

"UC Davis Cancer Center represents an enormous asset and resource," said Andrew von Eschenbach, director of the National Cancer Institute. "At UC Davis Cancer Center, discovery converges and, through center-based clinical trials, a seamless transfer of improved detection, diagnosis and treatment will reach patients in their local communities."

"The cancer patient is at the center of what we're doing," said Ralph deVere White, director of the UC Davis Cancer Center. "Our 12-year effort to achieve NCI designation has been an investment in resources that didn't exist in this region before, and that people in our area will be benefiting from for years to come."

UC Davis Health System invested $70 million in the cancer program over the past decade, recruiting 35 new research scientists and building the 52,000-square-foot Cancer Center and 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cancer research facility. The Lawrence Livermore partnership contributed 40 additional scientists.

To become eligible for designation, cancer center officials had to organize widely dispersed cancer-research efforts into an efficient machine for bringing new ideas into the clinic. A massive cooperative cancer research effort was created by integrating cancer investigators from the university's world-class programs in veterinary medicine, comparative medicine, biological sciences and agriculture and engineering, and linking this talent with the vast resources available at Lawrence Livermore. The result is a constellation of scientific expertise, focused on cancer, that doesn't exist at other centers.

Today the cancer center coordinates the work of more than 200 scientists actively engaged in cancer research at the UC Davis Medical Center campus in Sacramento, on the main campus in Davis and at Lawrence Livermore lab.

Hundreds of cancer studies are in progress under the auspices of the UC Davis Integrated Cancer Research Program, including investigations into why prostate cancer is often more aggressive in African-American men; which compounds in fruits and vegetables protect against cancer; why Southeast Asian children in California have a three-fold higher incidence of Hodgkin's lymphoma compared to Caucasian children; and whether naturally occurring silica in California soil increases lung cancer risk.

Joint projects with Lawrence Livermore include:

Proton-beam radiation therapy - Proton-beam accelerators can deliver a more potent and focused beam of radiation than that emitted by current radiotherapy machines. It is expected to be the next generation in radiation treatment for cancer. Only size and cost are preventing its widespread use: A proton-beam machine costs more than $100 million to build, and takes up as much space as a basketball court. UC Davis Cancer Center and Lawrence Livermore scientists expect to build a proton-beam accelerator that will cost less than $10 million and fit in a typical radiation oncology clinic.

Photonic probes - Scientists are testing a slender probe that uses light to determine whether a breast lump is cancerous. Also in development is a miniature photonic device that can detect cancer inside the bladder or other internal organs. Like the breast probe, this device promises to diagnose cancer instantly, sparing patients the need for surgical biopsy.

Accelerator mass spectrometry investigations - Originally employed to detect the fission products of atomic tests, Livermore's giant AMS has become an invaluable tool for studying the effects of carcinogens on humans and animals. Researchers hope the technology also will prove useful for individualizing chemotherapy regimens.

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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