As we welcome 2014 and the promise it holds for advancing toward a future without cancer, it's only appropriate that we take some time to contemplate the year that was. From the joyous celebration that marked the opening of the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers to the somber remembrance of the late Dr. Ronald Herberman, founder of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, 2013 brought us many reasons to come together and reflect on our proud history and the progress we have made this year to advance clinical care and cancer research for our patients and their families. Let's take a look back at our year.
- At the beginning of 2013, we welcomed our first patients to the newly created Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers on the fourth floor of the Hillman Cancer Center. The state-of-the-art facility embodies everything that is UPMC — good science, smart technology and patient-centered care. Made possible by a catalytic donation of $3 million from the Mario Lemieux Foundation and a $10 million investment from UPMC, the center is dedicated to the care of patients with hematological malignancies including leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Patients coming to the center find a comforting, tranquil space where they can receive the most innovative treatments available. In August 2013, we received the welcome news that our stem cell transplant program has been reaccredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT).
- In April, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute served as the host for the statewide Pennsylvania Cancer Planning Summit, a meeting of stakeholders who will finalize and implement the state cancer plan. We were delighted to host Secretary of Health Michael Wolf as well as keynote speakers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Cancer Society to inform our planning.
- As the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, we were thrilled to receive two important and highly competitive awards this year from the NCI. Teams led by Dr. John Kirkwood and Dr. Robert Edwards received funding to study skin cancers and ovarian cancer, respectively, through the prestigious Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) program. 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, lung cancer funded since 2001, and skin cancer since 2008. Our newly funded SPORE in ovarian cancer is shared with our colleagues at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, underscoring the importance of team research.
- In the molecular pathology laboratory at UPMC, under the leadership of Dr. Yuri Nikiforov, we have begun to make next generation sequencing tests available to all patients with advanced cancer. These continued efforts at personalized medicine were further advanced through our big data initiative and research by Dr. Adrian Lee, whose team was able to electronically integrate for the first time clinical and state-of-the-art genomic information on 140 breast cancer patients. Dr. Lee's team found intriguing molecular differences in the makeup of pre-menopausal vs. post-menopausal breast cancer and will continue to decipher those differences, findings that may one day provide a roadmap for developing targeted therapies.
- More than 400 research and clinical faculty and staff members, postdoctoral fellows and students attended the 25th Annual UPCI Scientific Retreat this year. The event at the Petersen Events Center included 177 poster presentations of research results, lectures, breakout sessions, and informal coffee breaks as we discussed and contemplated next steps we must take in the battle against cancer. Our leadership team also held a retreat on Nov. 8, to chart our course for the next five years.
- In June, we received the sad news of the death of Dr. Herberman, founding director of UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter. At a tribute to him in December in the Herberman Conference Center, Dr. Herberman was remembered not only for his work to establish UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter but also for his research in the important area of immunotherapy. A lectureship has been established in Dr. Herberman's honor. The lectureship will support keynote speakers for the annual UPCI retreat.
- In the fall, we celebrated our community supporters and our donors at the annual Hillman Center Cancer Gala, where more than 900 people gathered in a glamorously transformed Consol Energy Center to recognize $4 million that was raised to support cancer research. Earlier in the year, one of our dearest supporters, Elsie Hillman, founding member and vice chair of the UPCI Council, was selected as the 2013 National Dignity & Respect Champion. We were thrilled to hear about Elsie's award, and are so grateful for her support that has helped to make UPCI a beacon for cancer research and care across the country. In New York City, UPCI Council Chair Sy Holzer was also recognized with the James Stower Lifetime Achievement Award for his decades of service to UPCI, a fitting recognition for one of our staunchest supporters.
- Our work depends completely on our people, including researchers, clinicians, staff and advocates, who have all performed at the highest levels this year. Just a few examples include the success of our newest scientists to obtain the grant funds that are so necessary to fuel their research—physician–scientist Dr. Timothy Burns was named as a V Foundation Scholar; surgeon–scientist Dr. Kurt Weiss received a career development award from the National Cancer Institute; and Dr. Daolin Tang received a Pancreatic Cancer Action Network–AACR Career Development Award.
It would be impossible to mention here all of the events and accomplishments of 2013, but please know that each of you is vital to the success of our cancer program. This was especially true this year as we faced huge challenges (and funding cuts) under the shadow of the sequester and partial shutdown of the federal government. The negative effects of these national events on biomedical research cannot be understated and will be felt for years to come. And all this is happening at a time when there is more opportunity than ever for clinically meaningful discoveries in cancer care and research. We must not let these challenges deter us from our passion to pursue a world without cancer.
Thank you all for making 2013 the best year yet at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter. All of us look forward to working with you to make 2014 even better and brighter. It will be a critical year as we complete a self-assessment and strategic planning process and submit our renewal application for our NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center. The stakes could not be higher for our researchers, our center, our field, and most importantly, our patients! We will continue to rely on your support and help in our quest to define a world without cancer.