Gov. Asa Hutchinson Lends Support to UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute

Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Interim Director Laura Hutchins, M.D., (center) leads Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (right) and UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, on a tour of the Cancer Institute.

Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Interim Director Laura Hutchins, M.D., (center) leads Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (right) and UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, on a tour of the Cancer Institute.

Sept. 6, 2018 | A 10-minute drive from the Arkansas State Capitol on Sept. 5 brought Gov. Asa Hutchinson face to face with the future of cancer research.

Hutchinson’s visit to the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute offered him the opportunity to meet scientists, visit an infusion clinic and learn about the institute’s quest to achieve designation by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Donald Johann Jr., M.D., (right) shares information with Gov. Asa Hutchinson about his research into the potential of using liquid biopsies to detect lung cancer.

Donald Johann Jr., M.D., (right) shares information with Gov. Asa Hutchinson about his research into the potential of using liquid biopsies to detect lung cancer.

NCI Designation is awarded through a highly competitive assessment process, during which cancer centers must demonstrate outstanding depth and breadth of high-quality basic laboratory, patient/clinical and population-based cancer research. There are 70 NCI-designated cancer centers in 36 states across the country, with the closest to Arkansas being in Memphis (pediatrics only), Dallas and Oklahoma City.

“Achieving NCI Designation would more than double our ability to apply for vital research grant funding, as well as provide Arkansans with access to clinical trials and investigational drugs unavailable elsewhere in Arkansas,” said Cancer Institute Interim Director Laura Hutchins, M.D.

Calling NCI Designation “the kind of investment we know is important to our state,” Gov. Hutchinson applauded UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA for his leadership and commitment to achieving this goal for UAMS.

“With Chancellor Patterson’s leadership, UAMS has some very specific goals, one of which is NCI Designation. Without that designation, we lack access to 61 percent of federal research funding for cancer. This funding ultimately would allow UAMS to offer more clinical trials and bring more people to this center of excellence. That is the objective of UAMS, and I believe that objective is shared by the leadership of our state,” Hutchinson said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (second from left) and UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, visit with nursing leadership in the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute's Infusion Clinic 4.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (second from left) and UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, visit with nursing leadership in the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic 4.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 44 Arkansans a day will be diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and 6,910 will die of the disease.

“One of UAMS’ major advantages rests in being the state’s only academic medical center and our ability to offer Arkansans research-driven care close to home,” Patterson said.

The UAMS Cancer Institute reports about 150,000 patient visits each year. While a majority of patients come from throughout Arkansas and the southern region of the United States, others come from across the country and around the world.

While at the Cancer Institute, Hutchinson visited an infusion clinic where patients receive chemotherapy and labs where scientists are engaged in research addressing two deadly forms of the disease: lung cancer and melanoma.

Donald J. Johann Jr., M.D., associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Biomedical Informatics, shared information on his work with a national partnership developing liquid biopsies, which is estimated to become a $2 billion industry by the year 2022.

Johann’s research specifically focuses on biopsies for lung cancer using a blood test versus an invasive procedure, while his three partner institutions are working to develop similar tests for other types of cancer.

Alan Tackett, Ph.D., (left) discusses his melanoma research with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Alan Tackett, Ph.D., (left) discusses his melanoma research with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

This collaborative effort includes researchers at UAMS, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Hutchinson also visited with melanoma researcher Alan Tackett, Ph.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Tackett’s research efforts are aimed at discovering new approaches to detect and treat metastatic melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. His team uses advanced technology to discover molecular pathways essential for the development of new therapies and finds new biological markers to assist in developing personalized treatment.

“The ability to activate your immune system to detoxify cancer is extremely powerful,” said Tackett, who holds the Scharlau Family Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at UAMS.

Before departing, Hutchinson offered his support of the Cancer Institute and its quest to achieve NCI Designation.

“I understand that this is a long-term project, and I fully support the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute’s efforts to achieve NCI Designation. Not only does it mean so much to the patients I saw today, it also will ensure that this facility remains both a nationally recognized cancer center and an incredible economic engine for the state of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said.