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“We’re poised to surge forward in the fight against cancer"

With new leadership at YCC, a major research institute planned for West Campus and a state-of-the-art cancer hospital opening in October, Yale’s impact in the field of cancer will multiply.

In the field of cancer research, treatment and prevention, Yale has a long and distinguished history. Early research here dates to the turn of the last century, when a scientist named Ross Harrison, M.D., Ph.D., developed the first methods for culturing cells outside the body. This development led to considerable progress in understanding how all cells, including tumor cells, develop and grow. Several decades later, Francisco Duran-Reynals, M.D., succeeded in producing different types of sarcomas in animal studies by overcoming the species barriers of certain oncogenic viruses. Further studies by William Gardner, Ph.D., on steroid hormones and their role in experimental carcinogenesis added another dimension to our understanding of malignant disease.

It was here in the 1940s that the legendary pharmacologists Louis S. Goodman, M.D., and Alfred Gilman, Ph.D., along with surgeon Gustaf E. Lindskog, M.D., developed and administered the first anticancer drug, showing that nitrogen mustard was effective in treating lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and leukemia. Their discovery led to the development of other classes of anticancer drugs and ushered in chemotherapy as a standard treatment. In the 1950s and 1960s, Yale scientists continued to focus on cancer chemotherapy and drug development, and, in 1965, the school established the first university-based medical oncology unit.

An early leader
Shortly after President Nixon launched his War on Cancer in 1971, Yale was chosen as one of the nation’s first comprehensive cancer centers so designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Under the leadership of Jack W. Cole, M.D., Joseph R. Bertino, M.D., and Alan C. Sartorelli, Ph.D., it pioneered new methods in research, treatment and prevention, and was one of the initial sites for the Cancer Information Service, which was set up to provide timely and accurate information for cancer patients and their families.

An expert in lung cancer, Thomas Lynch will become Yale Cancer Center's next director on April 1. (Photo courtesy of the New Haven Register)

The list of achievements goes on. In 1993, former NCI Director Vincent T. DeVita Jr., M.D., was recruited as director of Yale Cancer Center, launching a new era at the school in cancer research and the translation of basic science into clinically relevant information. He and his successor, Richard L. Edelson, M.D., emphasized the expansion of Yale’s clinical trials program, and Dr. Edelson developed the first FDA-approved selective immunotherapy treatment for cancer. Pharmacology Chair Joseph Schlessinger, Ph.D., is a world leader in the field of signal transduction, and his research identifying the signaling pathways that control cell proliferation and other functions related to cancer, contributed to development of a new generation of anticancer drugs that interrupt those signals. They are but a few of the many highly accomplished Yale scientists and clinicians who are among YCC’s 211 members.

A new director for YCC
This spring Yale Cancer Center begins a new chapter. On April 1, Thomas J. Lynch Jr., M.D., will take the reins as the next director of YCC. An expert in lung cancer, Dr. Lynch is currently chief of hematology/oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Lynch joins us at a time when Yale is poised to surge forward in the fight against cancer. In October, the 14-story Smilow Cancer Hospital will open its doors, adding a tremendous new clinical facility to the medical campus. Our clinical operation will combine the latest in diagnostic and therapeutic technologies with the most timeless ingredients of advanced care—close attention to the doctor-patient relationship and to the art and science of medicine. With 112 new beds and extensive facilities for ambulatory care, the opening of the new hospital puts YCC on a path to take its rightful place as a leader in cancer care.

Research institute on West Campus
In addition to an improved clinical landscape, YCC is also enjoying a ramping up of its scientific aspirations, which are already very high. One of the chief components of Yale’s new 136-acre West Campus will be a cancer biology institute housing 12 faculty (See February’s edition of 333 Cedar Street, The Promise of West Campus). The focus of this institute will be rapidly emerging areas of basic and translational research, including cancer genetics and genomics, signal transduction and tumor immunotherapy. Yale already has tremendous depth in its science and an unparalleled track record in fundamental research. This new institute will move us into new areas and speed the translation of Yale discoveries into new diagnostic tools and new treatments.

Tom Lynch’s arrival at Yale follows a period of remarkable achievement by his predecessors and the current YCC faculty and staff. In particular, the school owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to outgoing Director Rick Edelson, who shepherded the renewal of the YCC core grant and spent much of the last six years building the base upon which we are moving ahead today. Rick remains on board as professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology.

(From left) Dean Robert Alpern, Thomas Lynch and Marna Borgstrom.

I would also like to recognize President and CEO Marna P. Borgstrom, M.P.H., and her team at Yale-New Haven Hospital for the outstanding spirit of partnership and cooperation that has pervaded our discussions throughout this process. This renewed collaboration between the medical school and hospital, reflected in Tom’s recruitment and in the cancer service line planning that we have pursued jointly over the past two years, heralds exciting new opportunities for close coordination in patient care, operations and marketing in the months and years ahead. Yale-New Haven’s commitment to the cancer field has made all of this progress possible. Raising the bar, redefining “triumphs” In my talks with Tom Lynch, he has from the beginning presented a compelling vision for YCC, one that leverages its new capabilities and is very likely to propel Yale to the very top of the cancer field. Among the things Tom would like Yale Cancer Center to be known for are scientific discovery, personalized cancer therapy, compassionate patient- and family-centered care, and the implementation of new ways of measuring quality, safety and outcomes. Tom has said that we need to start thinking again about curing cancer—that for far too long we’ve accepted very modest gains as being triumphs in cancer therapy. I agree. And I think that the combination of his appointment, the opening of the new hospital, our additional investments in research, and the incredible strength of our faculty and staff will allow us to achieve great things.