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The Cure That's Worth the Long Shot: Dr. DePinho Discusses How "Moon Shots" Will Lead the Fight to Treat and End Cancer
The word “cancer” sends shivers down our spines. It really doesn’t matter to us what type it is. It’s not something that any one of us ever wants to get. If we do, we want to know what can be done to get rid of it. It’s source of pain both mentally and physically. It could mean a dramatic change in one’s lifestyle. Worst of all, it can kill us. The word itself seems to be associated with death with no hope of survival.
However, we now live in an age where both science and knowledge have moved by leaps and bounds to find ways to slow the growth of cancer and eventually end it. One such program in Texas is leading the pack to reach this goal.
On September 21, CNN interviewed Dr. Ronald DePinho, the current president of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. He spoke about a program that he developed with the help of his staff. The intention is to aggressively combat cancer and significantly reduce death rates over the next decade.
Inspired by JFK’s ambitious 1960’s speech about going to the moon, Dr. DePinho called the initiative the “Moon Shots Program.”
He explains the program will operate on two fronts: “One is to apply the existing knowledge, to make a near-term impact in this decade. The second is to also say, 'We do not know everything we need to know to ultimately cure the disease.' "
According to the article, a panel of 25 medical experts have concluded with Dr. DePinho that the following types of cancers have a good chance of being reduced to a rare occurrence among cancer patients:
Lung cancer, melanoma, triple negative breast cancer and ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia.
The medical center’s website gives further details on the programs’ aims. According to the site, these cancers were chosen as the starting point for the centers' goals primarily because of the scientific knowledge of the centers’ teams. To aid in their work, the program will focus heavy funding for these teams. Each team will concentrate on a specific type of cancer, who will have highly advanced knowledge and skills in the field of cancer research. The funding will provide the teams the means they need to acquire and develop new forms methods and technology for the care needed for their patients. These methods include clinical genomics, massive data analytics, early detection, and adaptive learning in genomic medicine. More in-depth details of these methods can found at the link below:
Further details from the CNN report indicate that the facility hopes to gain better knowledge on what treatments will better suit the needs of their patients. This will be especially true when it comes to avoiding high costs of prescription drugs that may not show any real improvement. In fact, the program aims to focus research found in a patient’s genetic history, providing a better treatment plan with less time and money needed to back it.
Funding for the program is said to be $3 billion, according to Dr. DePinho. He indicates the sources of this funding include, “…institutional earnings, philanthropy, competitive research grants.” The program is set to fully launch by February 2013.
Moon Shots Video
When I became a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in 2008, I was exposed to a number of charitable works and programs. One of those was the Relay for Life program organized by the American Cancer Society. Think of it as a charity walk to raise funds and awareness for cancer research except it doesn’t last for just 3 or 4 hours. Instead, it's all night long with tents set up by supporters from various businesses and volunteer programs within a track and field area. Along the track are bags with lit candles inside them, personalized with images and names of those who either lost their lives to cancer or are battling the disease. This is called the Luminaria Ceremony and takes place upon the evening of the charity event.
When I participated in this event in 2009, I remember how quiet the area became as each of us walked that track late into the night. It reminded me of my grandfather from my mom’s side who suffered from prostate cancer. That on top of other health problems took away the chance I had to remember him. I was only about 4 years old when he passed and he lived in Italy at the time, so my time with him was infrequent. All I have to know about him besides what my mother told me are some photos and a video tapes of him playing with me and my sister when we were kids.
Standing by and watching someone you love lose their battle to cancer is not something I want anyone to go through. What makes it even more painful is that many times we feel as if the person we love is dying right in front of us. They may lose weight or may just become more depressed. They are no longer the person we used to know. They are there right in front of your eyes, and yet the disease is taking the one away from you before they have even drawn their last breath. Perhaps the worst part is when that person you cared about the most will not have the pleasure of knowing about other members of their family who would love them dearly, just as I’m sure I would have loved to remember what kind of man my grandfather was.
Many lives have been lost to this disease…more than necessary I feel.
What Dr. DePinho is proposing may sound like a long-shot at best, which truly makes the title of the program, “Moon Shots,” so appropriate. The disease comes in a lot of forms and it’s been hard to figure out how it’s caused and how to cure it, but that’s not stopping him from trying. And why should he? Technology has improved so much over the years and we have a better understanding of how the human body works than we ever did decades ago. In fact, this program shows that we have been able to move beyond just prescribing pills or going through painful chemotherapy and hoping for the best. Perhaps now, medical studies will show Dr. DePinho and his teams how to help cancer victims overcome their suffering through simple lifestyle changes. Whatever the methods are, the teams now have better tools in their hands to study a patient’s genetic history and health patterns, giving them a chance to be one step closer to hearing those wonderful words: “We can cure you.”
Cancer does come in many forms and it’s been a tough battle to fight for so many people, but I do feel with all that we have learned, we have come a lot closer to winning that fight. Perhaps we can’t get rid of it completely, but this story shows me that we can get a better handle it.
That’s what makes this cause so worthwhile. We have a chance to get it under control and to make so many lives richer, longer, and happier. This isn’t just something to help just the patients happy, but to make the friends and family they have around them happier as well...adding to the time they will be able to spend with each other.
So should we shoot for the moon to make this goal of beating cancer happen? If that’s what it takes to improve the quality of the lives for the patients, then I say most certainly yes!