MDN: National Cancer Institute Director Lauds St. Jude
Dr. Douglas Lowy returned to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on Friday, March 24, and praised the facility as being a worthy beneficiary of research funding that comes through his National Cancer Institute.
Lowy, who a year ago took over as director of NCI, a division of the National Institutes of Health, has been to St. Jude on other occasions to present his research findings as an international scientist. He took a tour Friday to see some of the new technology at St. Jude and get briefed on its $1 billion expansion.
“It’s really a pleasure for me to be able to visit St. Jude,” he said. “As a result of research that has been conducted at St. Jude as well as other places, the outlook for children who develop cancer has improved dramatically over the past decade so that now the majority of children who develop cancer can be cured.
“On the other hand, whoever is a child that dies of cancer is one child too many, and we are going to work tirelessly to reduce the number of children who succumb to their disease.”
Lowy, who is also chief and senior investigator of the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology at NCI, participated in a panel discussion with several members of the St. Jude team and toured the St. Jude Electron Microscopy department.
Even though the number of childhood cancer survivors continues to increase, there are still serious long-term side effects as a result of the toxicity of the treatment.
NCI’s reach is daunting, supporting 69 different cancer centers in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
“We are the only NCI-funded comprehensive care center that’s dedicated exclusively to childhood cancer,” said Dr. Charles W.M. Roberts, St. Jude executive vice president and director of the NCI-funded Comprehensive Care Center. “NCI provides us with about $6 million a year to organize and focus around themes and understanding what causes childhood cancer, how we use that information to bring new ideas and develop new treatments, and then actually bring new therapies to children.”
Dr. Mike Dyer, St. Jude developmental neurobiologist and chair of the Department of Developmental Neurobiology, gave one example of how the NCI funds affect work at St. Jude involving retinoblastoma, childhood cancer of the eye.
“We could often detect it early enough to save the child’s life, but in many cases they would lose vision,” said Dyer, co-leader of the Solid Tumor Program within the St. Jude Cancer Center. “So the focus of the clinical research and trials here at St. Jude is on saving vision for these children, which will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives.”
After 10 years of basic research, St. Jude identified a new drug combination that seemed to be more effective in lab studies, and it moved into a clinical trial that was recently completed.
“Over 84 percent of children who have a cancer will survive that cancer, and when a child survives cancer they’re going to live an estimated 72 years of life,” said Dr. Greg Armstrong, leader of one of the largest NCI-funded research projects on the St. Jude campus, the Childhood Cancer Survivorship Study that follows 24,000 cancer survivors throughout their life. “In doing so, we’re the early warning system for the long-term effects that could happen any time during their life span.”
NCI recently committed another five years of funding for the study.
“St. Jude is already really a gem or a jewel in the crown of pediatric cancer research, and concentrating more efforts and resources here will really have a ripple effect,” Lowy said.
As NCI director, Lowy said he is restricted from commenting on the possibility that funding for medical research could be slashed significantly under the administration of Donald Trump, who’s initial budget calls for a $5.8 billion reduction in NCI funding.
“I will say that our commitment to patients will remain steadfast,” he said. “We always face challenges for our budgets because the number of important ideas to test vastly exceeds the resources that we have, so the NCI is committed to strategically supporting the most important research to help our patients.”