WASHINGTON – University of Maryland Medical Center’s recent designation as a cancer center by the National Cancer Institute will help advance its research in cancer disparities among minorities and breast cancer treatment, said the director of its cancer division.
The Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore became the 64th medical institution in the country to receive the designation on Sept. 3.
Hospitals receiving the designation receive grants that help advance their research and treatment programs. Greenebaum Cancer Center is expected to receive $3 million within three years, said Director Kevin Cullen.
A cancer treatment facility must produce significant laboratory research and clinical studies and offer quality care in order to receive the recognition, said NCI Cancer Centers Program Director Jaswant Bhorjee.
One example of the facility’s fitness for the designation is the research of Angela Brodie, a pharmacology professor at the university’s medical school. She developed a class of drugs that inhibit the body’s ability to synthesize estrogen, which helps accelerate the progression of breast cancer, said Cullen.
“We were very gratified that we received the designation when we did,” Cullen said.
Nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center is the only other Maryland facility recognized by the NCI as a comprehensive cancer center.
Comprehensive cancer centers have an additional component, which is reaching out to the community, such as underserved populations, Bhorjee said.
The designations do not affect cancer patients’ treatment during their hospital stay, Cullen said.
NCI and Greenebaum have worked together over the years, Bhorjee said.
According to the Greenebaum Center’s Web site, the facility formally known as the Baltimore Cancer Research Center was created as an “intramural program” by the NCI in 1965.
The Baltimore center’s clinic and laboratory facilities were moved to UMMC in 1974 and 1976, when the hospital formed a partnership with NCI. Then, in 1981 it separated from the federal government and became the University of Maryland Cancer Center.
“I think it was a very exciting time, but also a very challenging time for patients,” said Cullen.
The center’s early years were exciting because people were beginning to realize that cancer could be treated, but challenging because doctors were not as knowledgeable about which drugs to use and their side effects, Cullen said.
The patients’ willingness to participate in clinical studies was “very courageous” and “laid the groundwork for what we do today, which is much more sophisticated and much more successful,” said Cullen, who joined the center in 2004.
In 1996, real estate developer Stewart Greenebaum and his wife Marlene, a breast cancer survivor, donated $10 million, thus giving the center its name, according to the Web site.
Today the facility is able to cure about two-thirds of its patients every year, and provides a “comprehensive” approach to treating the disease, Cullen said.
“We try to provide a very patient-friendly, patient-oriented, multidisciplinary team approach. In the past, people had to go from doctor to doctor to put together a team of people to help,” said Cullen.
The facility wants to expand its research in other fields. In the future, Cullen hopes the grants will allow Greenebaum Cancer Center to study the cancer disparities in HIV/AIDS patients.