September 5, 2008

University of Maryland Cancer Center Wins Prestigious Recognition

By Danielle Ulman

The nine years and millions of dollars the University of Maryland spent to earn the National Cancer Institute's recognition has finally paid off, officials said Wednesday.

The NCI cancer center designation -- shared by 63 of the nation's elite cancer-research hubs -- will provide the University of Maryland School of Medicine and its affiliated hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, up to $3 million in funding over the next three years, along with access to other sources of money.

"Recognition is the most important piece of it," said Kevin J. Cullen, director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.

"The designation also makes it easier for us to bring in more researchers and doctors," he said. "People want to work for the top- rated institutions."

The doctors, researchers and students at the center will also be eligible to bring in more medical trials and compete for some federal grants that are only available to NCI-designated centers, Cullen said.

Leon Burns, a patient who was first treated for lung cancer at the center in 2005, has participated in many clinical trials at the University of Maryland, particularly after he had a relapse in 2007.

"I have to go out on a limb because off-the-shelf drugs were not working," Burns said.

Statistically, Burns, who is black, is not the typical patient who participates in medical trials, because fewer than 2 percent of blacks take part in trials nationally.

The University of Maryland may have impressed NCI officials with its ability to enroll minority patients in clinical trials, Cullen said. African Americans make up 40 percent of the center's patients, and nearly half of those patients participate in the trials.

Burns was not "looking for a facility with certifications or designations," when he began searching for a place to get treated, he said. However, he said the NCI's recognition of the center will be a "stepping stone for attracting and keeping the best talent."

The designation will bring in clinical trials exclusive to the NCI's chosen cancer centers perhaps years before other non- designated hospitals can offer the same medications to their patients, said Jeffrey A. Rivest, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"The NCI designation will no doubt convey to patients that they are indeed getting the best cancer care anywhere, right here in Baltimore, Maryland," he said.

The Greenebaum Cancer Center started in 1995 with a $10 million gift from Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum, a Baltimore-based real estate developer, on the fifth anniversary of Marlene's diagnosis with stage II breast cancer. When Marlene had a relapse in 2004, it was a drug that was discovered at the University of Maryland that helped her to recover, Stewart Greenebaum said.

The center has $48.1 million in research money, $14.1 million of that from the NCI.

As an NCI-designated institution, the center can get up to $1 million a year in infrastructure grants for three years. After that, the program is eligible each year to receive $2.1 million or 15 percent of the total research money the NCI grants its scientists.

The Greenebaum Cancer Center now joins the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins as the state's two NCI- designated cancer centers.

Originally published by Danielle Ulman.

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