UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

August 2013

Like so many important things in life, all that we do at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC CancerCenter is centered around the energy, expertise, and passion that individuals bring to our goal of reducing the burden of cancer. Our hallmark, though, is the willingness of these individuals to harness their efforts to work as a team. Multidisciplinary care is at the crux of modern cancer medicine. Likewise, team science is critical for scientific discovery and translation–long gone are the days of the individual researcher toiling alone.

National Cancer InstituteIn recent weeks we received gratifying news about the success of some of our teams that work to translate research findings into human application–so-called translational scientists focused on certain types of cancer. Two of our teams learned they will receive five years of funding to study skin cancers and ovarian cancer through the prestigious Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) program of the National Cancer Institute. Only about 60 such programs are funded across all cancer types and across all centers in the entire United States and we at UPCI are privileged to house three of these programs including ongoing SPOREs in head and neck cancer funded since 2002 and lung cancer funded since 2001.

Dr. John KirkwoodLed by John Kirkwood, M.D., our SPORE team studying skin cancer was first funded five years ago and has just come through a highly competitive renewal application process, emerging with a near perfect score after peer review. Three projects focus largely on immune approaches to melanoma and a fourth addresses questions about cutaneous T cell lymphoma, a relatively rare form of lymphoma affecting the skin. This SPORE is a “perfect storm” in that it combines our long term scientific and clinical expertise in melanoma and immunology with the activities of a vibrant Department of Dermatology under the leadership of Louis Falo, M.D., Ph.D., and is tightly linked to national clinical trials activities where our key opinion leaders are truly taking the lead.Our only sadness about this renewal is that, despite our track record of success, the funding for the new grant will actually be less than we received when it began five years ago, a victim of federal budget cuts including the recent sequester.Dr. Robert Edwards

This year's competition also brought us the unique opportunity to participate in a new bi-institutional SPORE grant to conduct research in ovarian cancer, the most lethal of the gynecological cancers, with our colleagues at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. This SPORE grant links the research team led by Kunle Odunsi, M.D., Ph.D., at Roswell Park with investigators here in Pittsburgh led by Robert Edwards, M.D., to study new therapeutic approaches as well as epidemiological questions about ovarian cancer. This brings the concept of team science to a new level by uniting investigators at two of the nation's National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in our region to tackle the unmet needs of ovarian cancer.

As happy as we are about the success of our teams in garnering funding to support innovative translational research, we are mindful that this is only the beginning. The real success of these grants and these teams lies in their ability to move the needle against cancer. Our ultimate success will be defined by our ability to use good science and smart technology to provide exceptional patient care.