$2.5 million in donations support cancer genetics studies at the University of Chicago Medical Center

$2.5 million in donations support cancer genetics studies at the University of Chicago Medical Center

July 10, 2000

Two magnanimous gifts totaling more than $2.5 million are giving a big boost to cancer genetics programs at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

A $2 million donation over the next five years from the Dr. Ralph and Marion Falk Medical Research Trust will help establish the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics. This new center will concentrate on gene-based risk assessment, prevention, early detection and innovative treatments for cancer. An expansion of the Cancer Risk Clinic, which has worked with more than 700 families since it was established in 1992, the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics brings together specialists in cancer and genetics to convert advances in the basic science of cancer genetics into better care for patients.

At the same time, a $500,000 donation from the University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation Women's Board will support a series of related projects concerning cancer genetics. These funds will be used to purchase new research equipment, train graduate students in the committee on cancer biology, and construct new laboratories for cellular transplantation and gene therapy.

The Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics--under the direction of Funmi Olopade, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University, director of the Cancer Risk Clinic, and chairperson of a national task force on cancer genetics education--will focus on ways to use the explosion of knowledge about the genetics of cancer to help people understand and reduce their risk of getting cancer and to improve the care of those who are diagnosed.

Clinical Cancer Genetics projects include:

  • Ongoing study of the inheritance of cancer risk, based on family history and genetic testing. The clinic will also establish a patient registry to collect blood and tumor specimens and risk-factor information from patients and their families so that they can correlate genetic alterations with clinical outcomes.
  • Study the international epidemiology of the genetics of breast cancer. Expand ongoing collaborations with physicians in Nigeria and the Caribbean to understand the role of genetics in African and African-American women.
  • Develop advanced imaging techniques for the early detection of ovarian cancer, and improve detection and diagnosis for breast cancer.
  • Extend the "one-stop-shopping" approach developed for breast cancer screening to include assessment for women at risk for gynecologic cancers, by adding pelvic exams and pap smears to breast exams and mammography, all during a single visit to the clinic.

"The Falk Trust has provided the backbone of support for our Cancer Risk Clinic, which has played a major role in unraveling the role of our genes in the development of breast cancer and made genetic testing a viable tool in the fight against cancer," said Olopade. "We are excited and encouraged that they have chosen to stay involved in this tremendously promising area of research and patient care."

"This is a particularly encouraging time in cancer and genetics," added Olopade. "We have seen the first significant nationwide reductions in cancer mortality in the last decade, and now we have the first complete sequence of the human genome. We are excited to be able to merge these two specialties."

"These two grants dovetail nicely in advancing our efforts to bring together the fields of genetics and cancer research," added Nicholas Vogelzang, MD, Director of the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center. "Support like this enables us to remain at the forefront, using technologies that we couldn't have imagined 10 years ago to change the way medicine is practiced today."

The UCCRF Women's Board gift will be used to purchase and develop new technologies for cancer researchers such as:

  • Laboratories for DNA microarray chip analysis and for laser capture microdissection. The microarray chip lets researchers rapidly analyze the activities of up to 30,000 genes at once, a remarkable tool for assessing the genetic alterations that lead to specific cancers. Laser capture microdissection allows researchers to rapidly and efficiently separate healthy from cancerous cells, permitting much more precise analysis of the biochemical contents of normal and neoplastic tissues and the molecular differences between healthy and cancerous cells.
  • Equip laboratory facilities with new technology for human cellular transplantation and gene therapy. This facility will be used to introduce potential therapeutic genes into normal or cancerous cells or to create viral or other vectors to carry genetic instructions that could be used to combat cancerous tissue.