The NCI has granted Comprehensive Cancer Center status to the University of Maryland's Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore and to the Stanford Cancer Institute in Palo Alto, CA. They join 45 other cancer centers in achieving this distinction. The honor recognizes the centers' leadership in cancer research, education, and clinical care.

The NCI has granted Comprehensive Cancer Center status to the University of Maryland's Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore and to the Stanford Cancer Institute (SCI) in Palo Alto, CA. They join 45 other centers that have earned the agency's highest distinction—recognition of their leadership in research, education, and clinical care.

Currently, 69 institutions with strong basic and clinical research programs have been named NCI-Designated Cancer Centers. Comprehensive status requires additional breadth and depth: Institutions should not only bridge their basic and clinical research, but also demonstrate the ability to connect these programs to their local populations. Greenebaum became an NCI-designated center in 2008 and subsequently expanded its activities—particularly in population science and clinical trial recruitment—to qualify for the higher ranking, says Director Kevin Cullen, MD.

“We have focused heavily on improving health disparities in cancer research and access to treatment, especially among African-Americans,” Cullen says. “Our population-science program is a big part of that and was a key component in moving us toward this designation.”

Nearly 33% of participants in Greenebaum's clinical trials are African-American, compared with about 2% nationally—a testament to strong community ties, Cullen says. The Baltimore City Cancer Program offers breast, cervical, and colon cancer screening to uninsured and underinsured area residents. Those diagnosed with cancer receive information about clinical trials and enrollment assistance.

In addition, Greenebaum has built a network of partnerships with health centers and physicians across the state aimed at increasing access to trials in nonurban areas, which also helps facilitate population-based research, says Edward Sausville, MD, PhD, associate director for clinical research.

“Eighty percent of our referrals come from the city of Baltimore and 10 adjacent Maryland counties,” Sausville says. “Comprehensive designation will certainly be a basis for continuing to build alliances in those areas in order to ensure that all citizens of Maryland have the opportunity to consider clinical trial participation.”

Always strong in basic science, SCI was named an NCI-Designated Cancer Center in 2007. Garnering comprehensive status “was a matter of building our clinical research enterprise, recruiting physicians who are also superb researchers, and building our population-science program,” says Director Beverly Mitchell, MD.

The Stanford Cancer Initiative, launched in 2013, boosted the institute's recent NCI review. The initiative “applies rigorous research analysis to every aspect of patient care in order to identify which modalities improve the care experience,” Mitchell explains. For instance, patients at SCI are assigned a professionally trained multidisciplinary care coordinator to help them navigate the many decisions related to cancer treatment, which are otherwise complex and often overwhelming.

Patients at SCI can also “detail their concerns right into their electronic medical records prior to their appointments, so physicians can review them in advance and be prepared to address them,” Mitchell says. “It's another tangible way to involve people in their own care.”

Comprehensive status, and the increased funding it can attract, will enable SCI to continue developing its programs in early-phase clinical research, immunotherapy, and genomics and precision medicine. In addition, “Stanford has a history of innovation in data management and analysis,” Mitchell adds, so it is well positioned to help achieve an important goal of the National Cancer Moonshot—finding ways to merge myriad types of medical data. –Janet Colwell and Alissa Poh

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