Cancer program recruits top North Carolina scientist

Courtesy of University of North Carolina

Beverly Mitchell, MD, a leader of the University of North Carolina’s cancer program, has been appointed to the newly created position of deputy director of Stanford's proposed Comprehensive Cancer Center, effective July 1.

On July 1, the medical center will get a boost in its bid to become a federally designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, when Beverly Mitchell, MD, the associate director of the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, joins the Stanford faculty. Mitchell will assume the newly created position of deputy director of Stanford's proposed CCC as well as being appointed professor of medicine.

Mitchell's arrival completes the center's proposed management team, with Irving Weissman, MD, as director and Steven Leibel, MD, as medical director of Stanford's cancer clinic. She brings to Stanford more than a decade of experience in running a Comprehensive Cancer Center, having served as associate director of the UNC cancer center since 1994.

"She will play a major leadership role in our efforts to be designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center," said Philip Pizzo, dean of the School of Medicine. "When you look at their expertise, Drs. Weissman, Mitchell and Leibel form a complementary continuum from basic and translational research to patient care."

In addition to her role in Stanford's effort to win the National Cancer Institute's official CCC designation, Mitchell will maintain her research interests in hematology and oncology. In recent years Mitchell has studied a cellular pathway that leukemia cells use to override signals that would ordinarily tell the cell to stop dividing or to die. Proteins in this pathway, Mitchell explained, could be used as a way of treating leukemia.

Receiving CCC designation is part of Stanford's long-range plans to raise its already high stature in cancer treatment and research. The designation would mean more money for cancer research and would make Stanford an even more appealing collaborator for multisite clinical trials, giving Stanford cancer patients access to cutting-edge therapies.

Part of what lured Mitchell to Stanford was the chance to help build a new cancer center. "When you see a cancer center that works well, you see what it adds to a community," she said. "The challenge is going to be creating something completely new." In North Carolina, she added, having a cancer center brought the best treatments, the latest clinical trials and high-quality cancer prevention programs to the community.

Mitchell received her MD from Harvard Medical School in 1969. She did her residency at the University of Washington and fellowships at the University of Zurich and the University of Michigan, where she later became professor of internal medicine and pharmacology. She moved to UNC in 1991 and 10 years later became a member of the national Institute of Medicine.

Mitchell was at Stanford on May 26 to observe a site visit by a National Cancer Institute external advisory board that was assessing Stanford's progress towards meeting the CCC requirements. "Since the last visit we have made consistent and remarkable progress thanks to the efforts of our faculty and key leaders," Pizzo said. He added that the advisory board rated all of Stanford's programs to be "excellent" to "outstanding."

Still, as a result of the meeting, Pizzo and others involved in the effort to win the CCC designation decided to move the date the medical center planned to submit its application to Feb. 1, 2006, from Oct. 1, 2005. Mitchell said that the delay would only strengthen Stanford's application. "This extension will enable us to put together the best grant possible," she said.

During the added months, Stanford cancer researchers will institute a series of regular meetings to facilitate greater collaborations, Mitchell said. Also, the extra time will allow Stanford officials to achieve more benefits from a newly formed alliance with the Northern California Cancer Center, which conducts epidemiology research. Mitchell explained that by the time Stanford files its application in February, some of the group's research work may have been moved to the School of Medicine from its offices in Fremont.

If the National Cancer Institute designates Stanford a Comprehensive Cancer Center, the initial grant will bring $3 million in start-up funds: $1 million a year for three years to get the center running smoothly. After that time, total CCC funding will equal roughly 15 percent of what the medical school receives in total from all National Cancer Institute grants. Researchers would still apply for individual grants to cover their research costs, but the CCC money would be used for administrative costs and to run the center's facilities.

While putting together the application has involved some cost and time, the end result could be well worth it. "It's a big initial investment for a long-term gain," Mitchell said.