MD Anderson shoots for the moon in curing cancer
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 01:09
Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy stood at Rice and said, “We choose to go to the moon … not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard.” Now, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is taking his words to heart. Last week, MD Anderson President Dr. Ronald DePinho announced the Moon Shots Program, an initiative to accelerate cancer research and to reduce the number of deaths caused by eight major types of cancer.
Beginning in February 2013, the Moon Shots Program will bring together top researchers and clinicians to target eight types of cancer: melanoma, myelodysplastic syndrome/acute myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, triple-negative breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. Each Moon Shot group will research everything from the most effective treatment and drugs to preventative measures and testing, according to an MD Anderson news release.
Although the American Cancer Society reports that there will be an estimated 11.3 million cancer survivors in the United States by 2015, an estimated 100 million people will die of cancer worldwide in the next 10 years, according to the news release.
Dr. Anil Sood, professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine and member of the Moon Shots team that will work on ovarian and breast cancer, said Moon Shots aims for a comprehensive fight against cancer.
“[The program] will not just try to design a new treatment, but rather ... work to improve the early detection of cancer, targeting cancer in high-risk groups and looking at survivors to reduce the toxicity of therapy,” Sood said. “The goal is focused on improving the outcome for patients with cancer, whatever it takes to get there.”
The long-term goal of the program is to find cures for these cancers within the next 10 years, but Sood said the attainability of that goal is uncertain.
“I don’t know [if we can do it in 10 years], but we’re certainly going to try to make improvements,” Sood said.
In the ovarian and breast cancer program, those improvements could come in the form of universal genetic testing for cancer, Sood said.
“We know that there are groups of women who have certain genetic changes that predispose them to these types of cancers,” Sood said. “All patients diagnosed with these cancers would undergo testing with the goal of not only treating these individuals, but also looking at who may be at risk for developing these cancers in their families, and then looking at preventative measures for these people.”
Sood said his team will also work on fitting treatment to specific patients.
“Right now, the way that treatments are done is pretty uniform,” Sood said. “For ovarian cancer, they receive surgery and go on to go through chemotherapy. We’re looking at more tailored approaches to this treatment.”
The program is estimated to cost $3 billion. This money will come from philanthropic donations, research grants, commercial profit from discoveries of the program and MD Anderson’s revenue. The cost of the program will not affect funding for regular research projects at MD Anderson, according to the news release.
Sood said the Moon Shots Program is different from MD Anderson’s usual cancer research because the program’s goals are more widespread.
“Most individual labs focus on their individual goals,” Sood said. “That’s worked for a long time. But a Moon Shot effort is different. It’s not that you’re aiming for [the success of] one lab or one investigator. The goal is to make massive improvements.”
Brown College junior and pre-med student Kylie Cullinan said she has some doubts about the program.
“It doesn’t seem that revolutionary because everyone’s trying to cure cancer,” Cullinan said. “I also don’t know how realistic it is.”
Sood said he recognizes that Moon Shots is an ambitious effort but sees it as a great opportunity. Moon Shots gets its name from Kennedy’s famous speech calling for a space program to put a man on the moon. Sood said this program will operate under a similar sense of determination.
“The program is designed to be goal-oriented,” Sood said. “When Kennedy gave that speech, he didn’t say, ‘Let’s study how to get to the moon.’ He said, ‘We’re going to the moon.’ Whatever it took to get there, we would have to do.”
Cullinan said despite her doubts, she supports the program and its goal to cure cancer.
“I think it’s good that they are centralizing research under one program,” Cullinan said. “I think it could also be a great opportunity if some Rice students could get involved in the research.”