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Research on Cancer Genetics Plays Large Role in New Research Institute at Penn

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PHILADELPHIA--A significant portion of a $100 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center that was announced last month will be used to fund genetic research, according to the school's president. The pledge, which officials called the single largest contribution ever for research at a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, came from former U.S. Healthcare chairman Leonard Abramson and his wife Madlyn, a breast cancer survivor. The money will be used to found the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute.

In a statement to the press December 11, President Judith Rodin said the gift will "significantly increase opportunities to break new ground in the war on cancer, especially in the areas of cancer genetics and molecular diagnosis," and it will "further the Cancer Center's quest to unravel the biomedical mysteries of cancer in order to design better treatment options and ultimately find a cure." Also addressing the media, William Kelley, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Dean of the School of Medicine, said the pledge will enable "major recruitment of additional faculty in basic and translational research." However, no one at the university would comment on what part of the gift might be specifically allocated to bioinformatics.

According to the new institute's mission statement, it will aim to promote the understanding, control, and cure of cancer through basic laboratory research geared toward the rapid development of new preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic approaches; education of future generations of cancer researchers and clinicians; and innovative clinical care programs. The institute's goals include supporting new forms of research and treatment, and improving the treatment of cancer to the extent of making current treatments obsolete. Another key objective will be rapid translation of basic discoveries by institute researchers into concrete prevention and treatment options, according to the statement.

The institute is intended to provide an environment where top scientists can work in an integrated research facility free of funding and other commercial constraints. Areas of research focus will include:

* Identifying human genetic defects that increase an individual's likelihood of having cancer;

* Developing animal models for human cancer based on knowledge of human cancer genes;

* Developing methods for detecting the disease at its earliest stage;

* Developing molecular and biochemical diagnostic tests that will allow treatment choices based on the fundamental properties of tumor cells;

* Basic science, translational, and clinical research that targets the five most commonly occurring cancers (breast, lung, prostate, ovarian, and gastrointestinal); and

* Developing new therapeutic agents targeted to specific gene mutations, alterations in the stages of tumor development, and elimination of small numbers of tumor cells, with cancer prevention as the ultimate goal.

John Glick, who has served as director of the Cancer Center for more than a decade, will direct the new institute. His research at Penn is currently focused on evaluating the effectiveness of novel therapies for Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, and breast cancer.

--Adrienne J. Burke

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