August 27, 2008

MILESTONES IN THE FIGHT AGAINST CANCER

By Senator Mike Crapo

How many people do you know who have been diagnosed with cancer? While one is one too many, most of us know numerous people fighting cancer and those who have won, and others, sadly, who have lost the battle. And the number sometimes includes us-in my case, I've beaten cancer twice. This year alone, the American Cancer Society predicts that over 1.4 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer. Although these statistics are unwelcome, there is progress being made. In fact, the major (non-cable) news networks-ABC, NBC and CBS-are considering the current state of cancer research a major milestone and collaborating in an effort called "Stand Up To Cancer" which will happen September 5. The networks are working with the American Association for Cancer Research (AARC), the entertainment industry and other national cancer research and patient advocacy organizations to bring needed funding to what is called "translational" cancer research projects-those that the cancer research community determines have the best chance of going quickly from the lab to active use by cancer centers and physicians. AARC will provide scientific oversight and review of the proposals, and will administer the grant funds.

Science, to date, has provided us with a basic understanding of the underlying biology of cancer. Fortunately, we've come a long way in cancer research. However, those working to find better diagnostic procedures, cures and treatments understand that more funding is needed to break into the next level of combating this terrible disease that takes so many lives and inflicts significant costs on individuals, families and society. With the tools of molecular and systems biology at our disposal, we can make great strides in fighting all types of cancer and establish improved guidelines for prevention.

Stand Up To Cancer is one of a number of efforts by private industry to garner resources for cures for cancer. On the public funding side, I consistently support ample funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that conducts and supports medical research. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of NIH, is looking at cancer in an unprecedented way as the result of advances made in research in recent years. According to NCI: "…the biology of cancer is intimately intertwined with the unique genetics of each person, making it an "individualized" disease. The ability to deliver individualized interventions to patients requires the integration and collaborations of disciplines not traditionally thought of as part of cancer research. This broader view of the cancer research community extends to mathematicians, physicists, and chemists as well as others in the physical sciences and relies on their skills and talents to enhance our ability to manage large amounts of data as well as developing novel applications in clinical research."

These are exciting times for cancer research. Today, a cancer diagnosis is not the death sentence it once was for many people, and we can continue to both improve the outlook for those diagnosed with the disease as well as educate people about lifestyle choices that reduce the risk of cancer. As the cancer research community can attest, we are making tremendous progress in the fight against this disease, but we still have a long journey ahead. The advances of the recent past portend amazing strides in the near future, with the right investment in resources, innovation and education.

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