Providing world-class patient care is a key tenet of the mission of the University of Virginia, and UVA Health is well known as one of the country’s leading academic medical centers. Several of its specialties, including pediatrics, cardiovascular and neurosciences, just to name a few, are among the nation’s most highly regarded.
But a new designation from the National Cancer Institute, the world’s largest funder of cancer research, may be among UVA Health’s most meaningful accomplishments. Effective Feb. 1, 2022, the University of Virginia Cancer Center, under the outstanding leadership of Dr. Tom Loughran, has earned a Comprehensive Cancer Center designation in recognition of its rigorous standards for interdisciplinary and innovative research in developing new and better approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer. The designation is also based on outstanding leadership and commitment to serving the local community. UVA joins only 51 other such cancer care centers in the U.S. to have earned the designation.
This recognition is far more than just an accolade. For those of us who know someone—a family member, friend or colleague—whose life has been affected by cancer, it represents hope.
Take glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor with few treatment options. In the summer of 2020, a team of scientists led by Dr. Hui Li of the School of Medicine and the Cancer Center discovered a gene responsible for glioblastoma, which Dr. Li called “an Achilles’ heel of glioblastoma.” The finding not only opens new avenues for treatment, but it also paves the way for research that could identify the Achilles’ heel of other cancer-causing tumors. Dr. Li’s team’s discovery was so significant that it earned a berth in the Elite Eight of “STAT Madness,” a nationwide bracket tournament designed to name 2020’s biggest biomedical advances and showcase cutting-edge research across the biomedical sciences.
That UVA is poised to make an even greater impact on cancer care and research comes as little surprise. Consider the expertise UVA has developed: More than 160 faculty members from 25 departments across the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the College of Arts & Sciences contribute to and are engaged with the Cancer Center. This depth and breadth of knowledge and talent are remarkable—and critical to solving the most pressing challenges in cancer research and care.
But to make continued progress in the fight against cancer, it matters not only who is working on a problem, but also how they work. At UVA, we are investing in ways to encourage collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to research, including cancer research. As with most complex problems, people can accomplish far more working together than they could working alone. Multiple viewpoints from a variety of fields and disciplines bring fresh perspectives to persistent problems and deepen understanding. And, by working alongside those from different areas of expertise, new scholars and practitioners learn to ask better questions and seek out complementary skills and ideas.
The UVA Cancer Center is poised to accelerate its growth and impact to facilitate more discoveries like Dr. Li’s. It already serves 3.2 million residents from 87 counties throughout Northern, Central, Southside and Southwestern Virginia, as well as eastern West Virginia. Since 2016, funding for cancer research at UVA has increased 45 percent, totaling more than $30 million in 2020. Meanwhile, participation in UVA Cancer Center clinical research has increased by almost 300 percent, with participants from all over Virginia and its neighboring states. And, as part of our 2030 Strategic Plan, UVA has committed funding and infrastructure to augment and strengthen precision medicine, which will help to better understand and treat cancer patients in more targeted and individualized ways.
The Cancer Center is one of our University’s great strengths and an invaluable community asset. The new Comprehensive Cancer Center designation has the potential to benefit the commonwealth of Virginia and patients, families, and healthcare providers across the country and around the world—through better quality of life, more effective care, higher likelihood of survival and, ultimately, hope for a healthier world.
This article was updated on January 5, 2022.