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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 2, 2006

New Hawai'i cancer center will take shape

By Carl-Wilhelm Vogel

There are not many words in the medical lexicon more detested or feared than "cancer." But it is the commitment and responsibility of the Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i to understand, cure and control the dreaded disease known as cancer through its mission of research.

For 35 years, the Cancer Research Center has focused on discovering the causes of cancer, reducing its occurrence and improving the quality of life for patients. Since 1981, it has been an organized research unit of the University of Hawai'i. It is one of only 61 centers nationwide designated as a National Cancer Institute cancer center.

Bills are being heard this session in the state Legislature that would provide dedicated funding through a gradual increase on the tax on all cigarette sales over three years. Half the revenues would come to the Cancer Research Center, with the balance going to health promotion and disease prevention efforts by the state Department of Health and the Hawai'i Tobacco Prevention and Control Trust Fund.

Hawai'i is a superb laboratory for research on people of Asian and Pacific Island descent in a Western cultural and environmental setting. This makes the Cancer Research Center a unique asset for the people of Hawai'i, because we know that cancer impacts ethnic groups differently.

But consider the growing minorities of Asians and Pacific Islanders, not just on the West Coast, but on the Gulf and East Coast and even in the U.S. heartland. These minorities may not be large enough to merit individual research attention where they live. Therefore, what is discovered here has direct, personal application to thousands more people across the United States. To be able to do good for ourselves while doing good for others is a most welcome situation.

Since 1979, the Cancer Research Center has been in a five-story building on Lauhala Street. In the beginning we had about 100 staffers; today we have more than 350 full- and part-time faculty and staff. And, of course, cancer research has become more complex and varied.

We are on the verge of a new era. Plans have been in the works for some time and progress has been slow for developing a new cancer research center facility in Kaka'ako, next to the new UH medical school. However, in concert with all the building and development activities currently taking place in Kaka'ako, plans for the new cancer center are gaining momentum. The business plan has been completed, and negotiations for the land lease are in the works.

One exciting feature of the new facility will be a brand-new outpatient clinic with physicians' offices. Simply put, this will enable the center to provide the best and most comprehensive cancer care to people in Hawai'i.

The Cancer Research Center is involved in more than 150 innovative national clinical trials testing novel drugs and treatments, and with the new center we may be able to double the number of studies and participants in this vital research. Even more exhilarating is that a new integrated facility will allow translational research, currently the most successful model for cancer care in the country. This involves physician-scientists transferring a free flow of information and new treatments from the lab to the patient care setting and back again.

The proposed new cancer center of about 360,000 square feet will be built on a vacant 5.5-acre lot. The development team includes a national architectural firm and partners that have worked on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the Cancer Center at the University of California at San Diego, and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, among others.

The new, expanded, comprehensive cancer center will be operated jointly by the University of Hawai'i and hospitals and private oncologists within the state, creating a true community project. The partnership with hospitals will make possible satellite facilities so Big Island, Maui and Kaua'i residents will not have to travel to O'ahu for treatment.

To make all this a reality, the Cancer Research Center needs your help. We recently received $10 million in federal funds committed to the construction of the new facility, through the efforts of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and the other members of the Hawai'i congressional delegation.

We need our community's support for the tobacco tax bills now moving through the Legislature, which will ultimately make the new Cancer Research Center a reality.

It is our hope that someday there will be no need for a cancer research center. Until then, and with your help, we will do our utmost to work toward that goal.

Dr. Carl-Wilhelm Vogel is director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.