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5 Questions: Mitchell on comprehensive cancer center

Beverly Mitchel

The medical school submitted Feb. 1 an application to the National Cancer Institute to become one of the agency's designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers. Agency representatives will visit the campus on May 23 and a decision is expected by the end of the summer. Beverly Mitchell, MD, who was recruited from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to become deputy director of the CCC, discussed the significance of this bid for the medical school and the community.

1. What does a Comprehensive Cancer Center designation bring to the Stanford community and to cancer patients?

Mitchell: The designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center will validate Stanford's ability to bring together science, medicine and community outreach into an integrated whole to promote the prevention, early detection and best treatments for cancer patients. There are currently 39 such centers in the country. Stanford is unique even among this elite group in its imaging and molecular diagnostic capabilities.

There is also a select group of NCI-designated cancer centers that are not "comprehensive." This designation is frequently a first step in the process of becoming comprehensive and validates excellence in research and patient care, differentiating these centers from others in the community that may deliver excellent care but that do not have the research component.

2. How much money is the grant worth? What about non-financial rewards?

Mitchell: The grant is worth $1 million per year for three years. This amount covers only a small fraction of our costs as a center. We then will have to reapply for a larger grant that covers more of our costs.

The non-financial rewards are in providing new mechanisms for people to interact and in emphasizing collaborations and the implementation of new ideas that will advance our ability to understand, diagnose and treat cancer.

3. Does Stanford have unique strengths that will help our application succeed?

Mitchell: Our strengths are in cancer research, which is outstanding across a broad spectrum of areas, our truly unique imaging capabilities and our wonderful clinical programs located in a beautiful new clinical cancer center.

The very strong support of Stanford President John Hennessy, Dean Philip Pizzo and the CEOs of both Stanford and Lucile Packard Children's Hospitals has also been extremely important, and we are very fortunate to have this.

This effort is truly a university-wide undertaking that involves four schools and spans more than 30 departments.

4. What were some hurdles that needed to be overcome to put together the proposal.

Mitchell: We needed to become more integrated in our clinical programs, bringing our outstanding research to bear on clinical problems in cancer.

We have always been strong in cancer treatment, but this integration will bring exciting new possibilities for both diagnosis and treatment.

We also needed additional leadership. The recruitment of Steven Leibel, MD, and myself together with the scientific leadership of Irving Weissman, MD, and the integration of the Northern California Cancer Center under its executive director, Dee West, PhD, has resulted in a very interactive and complementary leadership team.

5. If we are successful, what are some of the early changes that people will notice at our cancer center?

Mitchell: We expect to have new clinical trials for cancer patients that incorporate the latest in diagnostic and therapeutic advances. Patients will have access to all trials that are open through the NCI, and Medicare will cover many of the clinical research costs for eligible patients.

We will also have new approaches to cancer prevention and educational initiatives that will serve the entire community.