On October 19, 2016, the Cancer Community at Illinois held its annual meeting at the Beckman Institute for Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Around 60 faculty researchers, staff, clinicians, postdocs, and graduate students from around campus came together for the important event.
Dr. Rohit Bhargava, the Director of the community and Founder Professor of Engineering, gave opening remarks, updating the group on progress and accomplishments within the community during the past year. The Cancer Community at Illinois made remarkable strides during the 2015-2016 academic year, namely through the launch of the Cancer Scholars for Translational and Applied Research (CSTAR) program for graduate students, made possible by the Carle Foundation Hospital’s Cancer Center and the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Initiative at Illinois. Over the last year, the community also connected faculty with additional resources for research and supported new engagement endeavors in cancer advocacy and survivorship.
Bhargava outlined the next goal for the Cancer Community at Illinois: to become a well-established, functioning National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated Basic Science Cancer Center in the near term. He shared the roadmap for NCI designation, and explained several milestones that have either been met, or are in progress, in preparation for the future application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Dr. Neal Cohen, director of IHSI, welcomed the participants. The meeting’s keynote address was given by Dr. King Li, dean and chief academic officer of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Li first addressed the significant possibility for the Cancer Community at Illinois to become an NCI-designated Cancer Center, through the university coming together. He explained the concept of utilizing the shared resources and supporting activities of individual campus units, along with the campus Cancer Center, to showcase Illinois’ strengths in research and technology. Dean Li went on to reference the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, as it relates to the potential NCI-designated Cancer Center at Illinois.
“I think without defining the moon, you can’t take the moonshot. I think one of our first goals as a Cancer Center is to define our moon. What do you want this to impact? How are we going to take a shot at cancer that nobody else is taking? Because we have defined our moon differently,” said Li.
Complex issues, like cancer, should be studied to find patterns from the complexity, and then generalizable solutions applied to the issue, said Li. Developing one bullet to hit many targets, rather than creating many bullets to hit individual targets, was how Li explained his vision for cancer research at Illinois, as well as the new College of Medicine.
A networking break was followed by two panel discussions. The first panel focused on collaborative campus-based cancer initiatives and programs, and the second group of panelists spoke to working with clinical partners in cancer research. John Erdman, deputy director of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Initiative at Illinois and a panel moderator, noted that he is impressed by the quick movement and progress of the Cancer Community.
“A number of working groups within the Cancer Community are dedicated and active in achieving their goals. IHSI supports these groups administratively, and is working to improve and increase internal and externally-facing communication for these cancer working groups,” said Erdman.
A full report on the Cancer Community at Illinois’ Annual Meeting will be made available in the coming weeks at www.cancer.illinois.edu.
The Cancer Community at Illinois is a program of the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Initiative (IHSI), with support from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, the College of Engineering, and the Department of Bioengineering. For more information please contact Margaret Browne Huntt, associate director of the Cancer Community at Illinois.