The University of Kansas Cancer Center: Dr. Roy Jensen, Director

by HCE Exchange on May 13, 2013

It’s an exciting time to be involved in cancer care and research, and the University of Kansas Cancer Center is positioning itself to be a leader in research and treatment.

After a nearly decade-long effort, the Cancer Center became a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center in July 2012. The designation signifies a commitment to excellence and an emphasis on research. It also opens the Center up to more clinical-trial and funding opportunities.

Growing research opportunities and facilities

According to cancer.gov, for an institution to become an NCI-designated cancer center, it must “demonstrate scientific leadership, resources, and capabilities in laboratory, clinical, or population science, or some combination of these three components. It must also demonstrate reasonable depth and breadth of research in the scientific areas it chooses and transdisciplinary research across these areas.”

The University of Kansas Cancer Center invested about $330 million to upgrade facilities, programs, and services to meet the criteria for designation. The community actively supported the Center’s initiative by giving more than $100 million in philanthropic contributions and by voting for a ballot initiative to increase the sales tax in support of a new cancer research center.

“We are very proud of the community support we’ve received,” said Dr. Roy Jensen, the Cancer Center’s director. “The sales-tax initiative came at a time when Lehman Brothers had just gone south, and there was a lot of uncertainty about the economy. We weren’t sure whether voters would support taxing themselves.”

Through the money raised, the Center renovated 170,000 square feet of research space and 50,000 square feet of research space for early-phase clinical trials. The Center has a beautiful 82,000-square-foot facility devoted to Phase I clinical trials. It has a bioanalytical lab, clinical space, exam areas, and space for all infrastructures needed to conduct trials. Once fully operational, the facility can support about 350 to 400 patients on trial every year.

Dr. Jensen said in addition to funding and meeting the requirements for designation, getting staff and community organizations involved and part of the process was a challenge.

“When we started the designation process, only three faculty members had ever worked at an NCI-designated center,” he said. “We had a number of issues around education and getting folks to understand what it means, what it entails, why we have to start doing things differently.”

The Cancer Center helped form the Midwest Cancer Alliance, a group of 20 healthcare research organizations scattered across Kansas and western Missouri, to bring everyone onto the same page and understand the benefit to the region of having an NCI-designated center.

Continuing to improve care and quality

The Cancer Center is continuing to expand service offerings and stay focused on improving quality of care. It has plans to continue forward and achieve NCI designation as a comprehensive cancer center, which requires further efforts for outreach, public-health initiatives, and community involvement.

Looking toward quality, the Cancer Center participates in the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative Certification Program. The initiative promotes self-examination, and certification recognizes a practice’s commitment to quality related to patients, payers, and the medical community.

In recognition of its efforts, the University of Kansas Cancer Center was recently ranked No. 37 in the U.S. News & World Report’s Top 50 Best Hospitals.

Looking toward an exciting future in research

Dr. Jensen is enthusiastic about the future of clinical care and cancer research and the Cancer Center’s role in delivering that care.

“With the technology available and knowledge coming out of efforts to sequence the human genome, the future is going to be revolutionary,” he said. “It’s an amazing time to be a researcher. You can do experiments and answer questions that we could only dream about ten years ago.”

He cautions, however, that budgetary cuts to the NCI and National Institutes of Health are stifling to research and discouraging to new researchers. Years ago, he said, a young investigator could have their first-funded work in their early 30s, but now the average age is in the 40s.

“The constraint of resources is holding back what many of us feel could be tremendous progress. We are really changing the paradigm of how we grow and develop our researchers,” he said. “I’m afraid the new world order is not going to be in their best interest or in society’s.”

However, he does see some positive changes coming out of Washington with respect to reform.

“The chance of survival of an uninsured person with cancer is about 50 percent that of someone with insurance,” Dr. Jensen said. “Last year, 600,000 Americans died of cancer. I think any efforts to expand the number of covered individuals should be applauded. You cannot get comprehensive and well-coordinated cancer care in emergency rooms.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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