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Vol. 2, No. 8                                                                                                                April 17, 2019

Cancer Institute Member Spotlight

Justin W. Leung, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Radiation Oncology
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    (secondary appointment)
UAMS College of Medicine
Dr. Leung's lab is focused on the exploration of the causes and effects of genome instability and the mechanism of DNA repair. More specifically, he investigates how cells detect, signal and repair DNA damage in eukaryotes. Read more>
What is NCI Designation?

Part III:  Why isn’t NCI Designation all about cancer patients and clinical care?

NCI Designation is all about the patients and clinical care … but it goes a step further. NCI believes that cancer patients get better clinical care when research is involved, so if it sets rigorous standards for an elite research program, it knows the patients are getting top-notch clinical care.

Imagine the quality of cancer care as if it were a staircase:

At ground level, you would have care at a cancer center that offers no access to research. Patients being treated at that center would have full access to standard of care cancer treatments, but they would not have access to clinical trials testing emerging treatments for cancer.

The next step up is a cancer center that offers cooperative group and/or industry sponsored (i.e. pharmaceutical company) clinical trials. Patients here have access to some clinical trials, but many patients won’t meet the eligibility criteria for the handful of trials available, and these trials are not designed to address the cancer patient population seen by the cancer center.

Here at the Cancer Institute, we are at the next step. We offer cooperative group and industry-sponsored clinical trials. We also offer “investigator-initiated trials,” wherein our scientists are posing the research questions and directing the research themselves. This greatly increases patient access to not only emerging cancer treatments but also new prevention, screening and diagnostic methods, new approaches to survivorship care and quality of life following a cancer diagnosis, and new technology and medical devices.

Our patients are the first to access treatments that started in a laboratory on this campus. With onsite research, we also have the opportunity through our population science researchers to study disparities and barriers to health care. Then we work through research projects to remove those barriers and minimize disparities.

Finally, on the top step we find an NCI-Designated cancer center. The difference NCI Designation makes in clinical care is that it requires the cancer center to prioritize its cancer research to the benefit of its patient population. NCI Designation requires that time and money be prioritized for attracting the best researchers, retaining them and building the best research support system that will enable the researchers to do their job.

NCI Designation requires that more than 10% of patients be matched to an appropriate clinical trial and that clinical trial participants must match the demographics of the area served by the cancer center. NCI Designation also requires a cancer center to relieve the cancer burden in the communities it serves.

It’s not enough for a cancer center to do research and take good care of patients. A cancer center has to do both of those things so well that cancer incidence and mortality decreases in the communities served by the cancer center. To personalize this, the Cancer Institute serves the state of Arkansas, so NCI Designation requires us to improve cancer care and reduce the burden of cancer across the entire state. 

Cancer centers that are NCI-Designated provide the best patient care possible because they are held to an elite standard of providing cutting-edge care and reducing the incidence and mortality of cancer in the communities they serve. 
Meet our new Administration Staff Members

As director of program development, Blake Pond works with Cancer Institute associate directors in developing, implementing and evaluating their initiatives. Blake has worked in cancer research administration for 10 years, joining the Myeloma Center in 2016 and transitioning to the Cancer Institute in February 2019. He works closely with Cancer Institute members and leadership in developing and maintaining programs required for NCI designation. Having personal experience with cancer, Blake is driven by the pursuit of NCI designation and enhancing the impact of UAMS on cancer patients in Arkansas.

Lee Smith serves as membership director of the Cancer Institute and manager of the Research Hub. Through these roles he is responsible for the maintenance and quality of all Cancer Institute data required for attainment/maintenance of NCI Designation.
Lee began his career at UAMS in 1995 in the College of Medicine. For the last 19 years, he has been director of administration for research at Arkansas Children's Hospital. “NCI designation will transform UAMS’ efforts to bring cancer numbers drastically down in Arkansas and the region. I love the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful team that’s going to make this happen,” Lee said.
Share Your Accomplishments

Do you have a new grant or publication? Have you received an award or other recognition? If so, we want to know. Send your accomplishments to Susan Van Dusen, communications manager, to be shared here or through our other communication outlets. Information and photos are welcome! 
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