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The Next 40 Years

March 21, 2012

Just over 40 years ago, on Dec. 23, 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act and our country waged an unofficial “War on Cancer.”

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.

This prompted a significant boost in U.S. investment in cancer research, with the National Cancer Institute alone spending more than $105 billion in the years since. Other government agencies, foundations and private companies also upped the ante against cancer during that time.

The increased investment in cancer research has inarguably led to a much better understanding of the disease – or as we now know, the vast array of diseases that the word “cancer” comprises.

One of the most promising advances to come out of this war is the area of “personalized cancer medicine,” and patients with metastatic melanoma are among the beneficiaries of this approach. On page 20, we reflect on the progress made against melanoma and the important role Vanderbilt-Ingram researchers have played.

While there have been major advances, much more remains to be done. Every year, more than 550,000 Americans die of cancer. For some cancers, death rates are increasing rather than following the general downward trend. So the battle has not yet been won. We must continue to press on.

At the federal level, cancer research continues to be a priority. In 2009, an economic stimulus bill provided a $1.26 billion increase in federal funding for cancer research in efforts to seek a “cure for cancer in our time.” Harold Varmus, M.D., the recently appointed director of the National Cancer Institute, also offers new direction for cancer research in this country, with “Provocative Questions,” a list of important (and not always obvious) questions to guide NCI-funded research efforts. The feature on obesity’s role in cancer risk (on page 8) is one of those “Provocative Questions” our researchers – and others around the world – are trying to address.

On the local level, philanthropy has been at the heart of many significant advancements at Vanderbilt-Ingram. The university-wide Shape the Future campaign has received more than $1.94 billion, of which more than $200 million will promote cancer research and care. Particularly instrumental to early stage research is the support of individual donors like the Greene family (featured in the Spotlight section in this issue) as well as from organizations like Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, who recently committed an additional $5 million to support basic and translational research in personalized cancer medicine.

We are grateful for the partnership of all our donors who are helping us wage this war. And as we head into the “next 40 years,” we hope that we can continue to work together and on all fronts to hasten progress against this common enemy.




Jennifer Pietenpol

Photo(s) By: Photo by Joe Howell