(Photo by  Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado)

Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, director, CU Cancer Center

Here at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, our New Year’s resolution is to discover and test medicines and treatments that help cancer patients live longer, healthier, happier lives. Actually, it sounds a lot like last year’s resolution. And unlike losing 5 pounds or being kinder to telemarketers, it’s not something we’ll forget about on February first. This has been our goal, remains our goal, and will continue to be our goal as we push forward into the New Year and beyond. Simply, our expertise and our passion is to make cancer a manageable disease. In 2015 we took significant, important steps toward this goal.

By joining the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN), the CU Cancer Center adds its voice to a crescendo of data that includes tumor samples from more than 100,000 patients. This great repository of data allows researchers to ask questions about targeted treatments that could never be answered by a single institution or even by a handful of institutions collaborating on a clinical trial. ORIEN lets us look inside the genetics, genomics and epidemiology of cancer with power and precision. Along with only 11 other cancer centers, the CU Cancer Center is honored to be a pioneering member of this truly cutting-edge consortium.

ORIEN demonstrates our commitment to remaining at the forefront of targeted treatments and personalized medicine. People are noticing this commitment. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranked CU Cancer Center clinical care partners in the top tier of the nation’s cancer hospitals, with University of Colorado Hospital earning #15 in the country for adult cancer care (for the second year in a row) and Children’s Hospital Colorado earning #9 in the country for pediatric cancer care.

Our growing recognition has led to opportunities for our members to influence the direction of cancer research and care at the national and international levels. At the invitation of Rep. Diana DeGette (D) and Rep. Fred Upton (R), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I joined Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, Sylvia Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and others on the 21st Century Cures Roundtable in Washington, D.C. to discuss personalized medicine and the need to remain a world leader in biomedical research. In October, Fred Hirsch, MD, PhD, spoke in Washington, D.C. to members of a newly formed Congressional Lung Cancer Caucus to discuss progress in molecularly targeted therapies and immunotherapy. As CEO of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, Dr. Hirsch was also instrumental in bringing the 16th World Conference on Lung Cancer to Denver in September, which was attended by more than 7,000 delegates from over 100 countries. And S. Gail Eckhardt, MD, is one of three finalists for the position of president of the 40,000-person American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

These accolades sit on the firm foundation of our science. Our labs are leading the way in research targeting the androgen receptor in breast cancer, placing this target alongside established hormone targets such as estrogen and progesterone. Through hard work and the opportunity to collaborate with world-class experts here at CU, my own lab is showing how loss of the gene AGL and augmentation of the gene RAL leads to cancer growth and spread. At our consortium partner CU Boulder, CU Cancer Center member and Nobel Laureate Thomas R. Cech is unraveling the mystery of how cancers grow and regrow protective “telomeres” that cap their DNA and make cancer cells immortal, while Joaquin Espinosa, PhD, explores the mechanics of the gene p53, a commonly mutated gene across cancer types. At the Flint Animal Cancer Center a consortium partner Colorado State University, Rod Page and his teams of researchers are offering compassionate care to companion animals while gathering information that can improve the treatment of human cancer patients.

Throughout 2015, we have also been focused on building our community. In January 2015, we started the year with University of Colorado Hospital’s Knockout Cancer Gala at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center. In September, more than 140 cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and advocates gathered for the first ever Colorado Cancer Wellness Conference to learn about food, fitness and emotional well-being while coping with cancer. In August, Dinner in White brought a little touch of Paris and one of the year’s classiest date nights to Denver. And the 41st annual Men’s Event, hosted by John Elway at his restaurant, Elway’s, raised funds for research programs here at the Center.

In 2016 we look forward to submitting and renewing our Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) and along with it our designation as Colorado’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

We are scientists and teachers, doctors and leaders. At the University of Colorado Cancer Center, we are proud of the year behind us and I hope you will join me in looking forward to the year ahead. Right now is perhaps the most exciting time in the history of cancer research and in 2016 the CU Cancer Center is poised to play an essential part in unraveling the mechanics of this disease for Colorado and the world.