Four years ago, we became the 41st cancer center in the country to be designated “comprehensive” by the National Cancer Institute, and on the occasion met with The Sacramento Bee editorial board to talk about our commitment to reduce the burden of cancer for everyone in our region, not just for patients at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
As I prepare to step down after 20 years as center director, I can report that we have made tremendous progress on all of our commitments through a diverse complement of basic and clinical innovations.
Consider the advances from our Biomedical Technology Program. They include development of a fiber-optic probe used during tumor removal surgeries that delivers an impulse of laser light, then uses the re-emitted light to determine the biochemical status of the body’s tissues. That information helps the surgeon distinguish between malignant and normal cells, making cancer surgery more precise.
And with a $15.5 million grant, our experts are building the world’s first whole-body PET scanner, designed to reduce scanning time to 30 seconds or reduce the radiation dose by a factor of 40. That means safer scanning, especially for children.
When we think about cancer, we don’t always consider the role that our animal companions have in understanding and treating the disease in humans. But because UC Davis is also home to the world’s top-ranked veterinary school, we enjoy a remarkable research collaboration that is yielding important new knowledge.
Dog and human cancers share many biological and molecular similarities, so we can treat animals that have cancer, then design human trials based on what we learn.
For example, we have shown that radiation therapy used to treat dogs with melanoma or sarcoma suppresses their tumor’s immune defenses and at the same time activates their body’s immune system, which shrinks not only the primary tumor but also other malignant cells. Based on this approach in dogs, we now have two human clinical trials underway. This is immunotherapy, a cornerstone of Vice President Joe Biden’s “moonshot.” You could say Sacramento has already launched.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate, but people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds don’t always have the same outcomes after diagnosis. We are making progress in reducing these disparities. In the past year, we screened more than 1,000 Asian Americans for hepatitis B, which can lead to liver cancer. We vaccinated those who needed it and treated those found to be infected. Our program has expanded to include every health system in Sacramento. We also completed studies aimed at increasing mammography rates and colon cancer screening among Native Americans.
In 2012, we said we wanted to offer Phase I (early-phase) clinical trials to everyone in the city, regardless of who provided their cancer care. We are thrilled to announce the establishment of SCOPE (Sacramento City-Wide Oncology Phase 1 Program). With joint governance, we expect this to offer citywide access to these trials, making Sacramento a national leader in improving cancer care.
Finally, we established the Cancer Care Network where patients in Truckee, Yuba City, Merced and Bakersfield can receive treatment close to home while benefiting from the resources of a comprehensive cancer center. We train community providers; operate daily, multidisciplinary video tumor boards to discuss patient cases; and give patients access to trials of new treatments.
We have followed through on our promises, and I am certain the best is yet to come. As a Sacramento-area resident, I hope you share the pride and comfort that comes with living in a place with one of the country’s leading cancer centers working to end the burden of this disease.
Ralph de Vere White is the outgoing director of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.