FROM HIS days as a medical student to his current post as director, Patrick Loehrer has been a witness to and a leader in the rise of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.
And so, after the National Cancer Institute bestowed its highest recognition upon the center—comprehensive cancer center status—Loehrer stood in August before an audience gathered to celebrate the achievement, and briefly recounted some of that history.
He spoke of Larry Einhorn developing his revolutionary treatment for testis cancer and of Steve Williams’ work as the cancer center’s founding director. He mentioned Hal Broxmeyer’s pioneering research with cord blood transplants and Anna Maria Storniolo’s push to establish the world’s first normal breast tissue bank. He talked of Vicky Champion’s pioneering achievements in behavioral oncology. The names just kept coming.
“In the end, you see, the IU Simon Cancer Center is not a hospital. It’s not a bunch of laboratories. It’s not a repository for grants,” he said. “The IU Simon Cancer Center is people. These are very, very smart people, and very, very nice people, who are totally dedicated to research, education and clinical care.”
The center—and its people—join an elite group. Only 51 centers in the United States have been recognized as an NCI-designated comprehensive care center. They are found in 36 states. The IU Simon Cancer Center is the only one in Indiana.
“Designated cancer centers are recognized for their state-of-the-art research programs and strong commitment to delivering cutting-edge cancer treatment for patients,” said Dr. Douglas Lowy, acting director of National Cancer Institute, who made the announcement. “They are at the core of the nation’s cancer research effort.”
The comprehensive designation followed an extensive peer review of the cancer center, its facilities, laboratories, programs and leadership. Among the items that stood out, Lowy said, were the center’s leadership in the Hoosier Cancer Research Network, which brings together oncologists from across Indiana to coordinate cancer research; the center’s participation in the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, which coordinates cancer trials across the Midwest; and the AMPATH oncology program in Kenya, which has become a model for global oncology.
IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess said the recognition validates the significance of the school’s cancer research and it comes at a promising time in the development of cures for some of the most difficult to treat types of cancer. “This designation is cause for celebration,” Hess said, “not just for all of us at Indiana University but for patients across Indiana.”
Since it was established in 1992, the IU Simon Cancer Center has served as a hub for cancer research across Indiana. Today, nearly 250 researchers carry out all phases of research, starting in the lab and progressing to clinical trials.
The center also conducts population-based studies and investigations that explore how environmental and behavioral factors contribute to cancer. The center is known worldwide for its development of the cure for testicular cancer. Yet its researchers have also advanced treatments for breast, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, hematological, and thymoma cancer.
“Indiana University has an outstanding history of advancing health care in the state of Indiana and around the world,” said IU President Michael A. McRobbie. “This prestigious designation by the National Cancer Institute demonstrates that IU remains at the very leading edge of innovations in cancer care.”
The cancer center earned an “outstanding” rating from the NCI, which also awarded a five-year, $13.8 million grant to support research programs and facilities. The grant is a 43 percent increase from what IU received over the previous five-year funding cycle.
The center’s physician-scientists provide care through a partnership with IU Health, which brings the latest treatments to patients through the state’s largest health system, which includes Riley Children’s Health. Faculty also treat patients at the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital and the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center.
Beyond the history lesson, Loehrer spoke poignantly at the celebration about the courage of cancer patients, who are at the heart of everything at the IU Simon Cancer Center. At one point, he invited breast cancer patient Jenny Brown to stand next to him, McRobbie and Hess. “I want you to know this. I want you to believe this,” he said to Brown. “There is no more important person on this stage than you.”
Reducing the burden of cancer is the core of the center’s mission. Loehrer noted that cancer took the lives of Williams, former IU President Myles Brand and cancer center namesake Melvin Simon, among too many others.
“Cancer doesn’t discriminate,” Loehrer said. “The roads of this world and the next are lined with souls that have been touched by cancer.”
Philanthropic gifts were pivotal in fueling research that helped the IU Simon Cancer Center earn the National Cancer Institute’s highest designation. To make a contribution and continue the momentum, contact Amber Kleopfer Senseny at email@example.com or 317.278.4510.