Reinventing the way cancer patients are treated — and cared for — is about more than a single treatment, a single caregiver or even a single organization. Texas is uniquely poised to tackle the fight against cancer from all angles, as evidenced by the speakers at the Livestrong Cancer Institute's Biden Cancer Community Summit hosted on Sept. 21.
The morning event, which was simultaneously hosted by organizations across the country, featured three panels that showcased researchers and care professionals from Austin and beyond who are working to advance cancer prevention and treatment through research, prevention and patient-centered care.
Accelerating the Pace of Discovery
The first session, moderated by John DiGiovanni, Ph.D., from UT Austin’s College of Pharmacy, focused on expediting research statewide in partnership with the Cancer Prevention Institute of Texas (CPRIT). UT Austin researchers and CPRIT grant recipients Lauren Ehrlich, Ph.D., from the College of Natural Sciences and Kevin Dalby, Ph.D., from the College of Pharmacy presented on the research they are conducting to study T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and targeted therapeutics, respectively.
James Willson, M.D., CPRIT’s chief science officer, noted the importance of supporting cancer research statewide and attracting top talent to accelerate the pace of discovery.
“What has accounted for CPRIT’s success, and has made the organization arguably the envy of every cancer researcher across the country, is that from the beginning, CPRIT decided to spend the [allocated] $3 billion for innovation. It is not to be used for replacement funds or the like, and funding decisions are solely on the basis of merit,” Willson said during the discussion.
Building a World-Class Cancer Center
S. Gail Eckhardt, M.D., director of the Livestrong Cancer Institutes, shared the vision for the institutes’ work to reinvent the full continuum of cancer care at Dell Med by developing a robust research village, building out a cancer education pipeline from grade school through undergraduate medical education, and creating the soon-to-be-opened CaLM Clinic, which will place cancer patients at the center of care and incorporate wraparound care for all areas of life.
During this session, Carla Vandenberg, Pharm.D., from the Livestrong Cancer Institutes and the College of Pharmacy, spoke to the work being done in the institutes’ Developmental Therapeutics Lab to translate important discoveries into usable treatments for personalizing cancer care. Elizabeth Kvale, M.D., clinical director for the CaLM clinic, spoke about operationalizing the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ mission to revolutionize cancer care in a very real way — by delivering it in the clinic, opening December 2018.
In a panel discussion moderated by Barbara Jones, associate dean for health affairs at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, Eckhardt pointed out how the Institutes’ work is both complementary to and catalyzed by the broader, value-focused mission of Dell Med.
“The melding of what Dell Med has been about, along with the culture of not wanting to just create another academic center, makes it interesting to consider the CaLM concept, because I don’t think it could have occurred anywhere else,” Eckhardt said.
Helping Kids Cope With Cancer
The final session of the day brought together experts focused on the impact of cancer on children and families.
Farya Phillips, Ph.D., with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work shared insight from her work in psychosocial care for children with relatives who are facing cancer — noting, in turn, that cancer patients with children are significantly more likely to experience clinically depressive episodes, which are typically directly related to their parenting.
Aditi Narayan with the Livestrong Foundation demonstrated examples of how interventions like those facilitated by the Livestrong at School program can help children understand what a cancer diagnosis means for their parent or loved one, and support them in coping.
Crystal Wilkins, program director for operations at Wonders and Worries, an Austin-based nonprofit that helps children and families impacted by medical illness, offered insight from her work with local families dealing with illness, including cancer.
During a panel discussion moderated by Jennifer Currin-McCulloch, Ph.D., Narayan referenced the power of the CaLM Clinic structure, which can build in social services to support struggling children and families.
“It’s good for doctors to recognize that they’re not alone in dealing with this, either,” Narayan said. “The approach to the CaLM Clinic means doctors are able to say to families, ‘I don’t have the answers, but let me refer you to our social worker,’ who can then get the family the help they need directly, which is great.”
By bringing together a diverse range of researchers and caregivers that are making a local impact, the Biden Cancer Community Summit showcased the Livestrong Cancer Institutes’ growing range of experts and partners all working to achieve the same goal: improve the lives of patients and families who are facing cancer.