University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI)


November 2009

It is hard for me to believe that a year has passed since I made the decision to accept the position of Director of UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter. Many factors influenced my decision to come to Pittsburgh, including our organization’s commitment to rigorous scientific research and our patients. Since my arrival earlier this year I have been so impressed with the close integration of our community of researchers, physicians, nurses and staff within the greater Western Pennsylvania community because it is as a community that we must confront cancer.

November not only marks a year since I accepted the director position but it is also Lung Cancer Awareness month. Lung cancer is a particularly difficult illness because of its pervasiveness and propensity for poor outcomes. It has been termed a silent killer because its symptoms often don’t present themselves until the disease has spread significantly.

Our UPCI researchers are making strides against this disease. Earlier this fall, Jill Siegfried, PhD, co-director of our Lung Cancer Program, received a $1 million grant from the V Foundation for Cancer Research. The grant will support the conduct of two new clinical trials for lung cancer patients who are treated at UPMC CancerCenter. The clinical trials are based on research conducted by Dr. Siegfried and Olivera Finn, PhD, chair of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Immunology. The trials will be led by Ethan Argiris, MD, clinical associate director of UPCI’s Lung Cancer SPORE, and recent winner of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group’s Young Investigator Award.

Another UPCI investigator, Christopher Bakkenist, PhD, assistant professor of radiation oncology and member of the Department of Pharmacology, was also recognized for his work in lung cancer. Chris received the Lung Cancer Research Foundation Scientific Merit Award at an event in New York City to support his studies on targeting lung cancers with inhibitors for DNA repair.

November will also take researchers from our Department of Radiation Oncology to Chicago where they will make twenty presentations on a wide variety of topics at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting. ASTRO showcased one of our presentations, “Cancer Patients Value Forthrightness, Compassion” by Ajay Bhatnagar, MD, an adjunct assistant professor of radiation oncology, in its press plan and Dr. Bhatnagar’s work was covered by several news outlets, including WebMD, CNN and National Public Radio.

At UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter we are engaged every day in the fight against cancer. Through our research we hope to turn every cancer into, at the very least, a liveable chronic condition while we continue to work towards an eventual cure for each of the many different forms this disease takes. And at the same time, we realize that prevention is absolutely vital. Nowhere is this more true than in lung cancer where smoking is so closely associated with this disease. The importance of tobacco control is recognized each year during Lung Cancer Awareness month through the Great American Smokeout on November 19th. If you smoke, please use this day as your first day to stop. If you don’t smoke, encourage someone who does to think about quitting. Prevention is where our mission to contribute to the end of cancer begins!


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