New Staff and Funding Boosts UCSF Cancer Center Services

December 18, 2002
News Office: Eve Harris (415) 885-7277

Two new faculty members and an infusion of $21 million in federal funds at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center are contributing new energy to its pursuit of excellence in cancer treatment, research and education.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded the Cancer Center Support Grant earlier this year. The grant supports UCSF's scientific discovery and the translation of that knowledge for the benefit of patients. The award, as well as the designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, reflect the NCI's confidence that UCSF exhibits excellence in cancer research that bridges three scientific areas: laboratory investigation, clinical research and population research.

The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has recently hired two leaders in the area of population-based research. Joining the faculty as director of Population Sciences is Dr. Robert Hiatt, PhD. Hiatt comes to UCSF from the NCI, where he has been deputy director of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences since 1998. Prior to that, Hiatt was director of Prevention Sciences at the Northern California Cancer Center and also assistant director for Epidemiology and the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California. Hiatt, who will assume his position of professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in 2003, will be part of the executive leadership of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Rena Pasick, DrPH, has accepted the new position of associate director for education and outreach. Pasick served most recently as director of Prevention Sciences and as a research scientist at the Northern California Cancer Center, where she has been based since 1989. A UCSF associate professor of medicine, Pasick is responsible for coordination of activity in cancer education, communication and outreach.

"The addition of Robert Hiatt to our leadership is of tremendous importance to the Cancer Center and to the Bay Area," said UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS. "Because of the extraordinary diversity of the population in Northern California, ours is one of the country's most valuable areas for conducting cancer-related epidemiological and prevention-and-control research. With Drs. Pasick and Hiatt, we're poised to achieve greater progress in understanding cancer from a population perspective."

The NCI currently is devoting increasing resources to newly emerging areas of opportunity, such as cancer prevention, that rely more heavily on population science. In its award letter, the NCI said it expects funded cancer centers to give greater emphasis to the particular challenges presented by special populations. For example, African Americans, whites and Hispanics reported very different beliefs about the safety and value of experimental treatments in a Harris Interactive survey released in March 2002. The survey showed that only 9 percent of African Americans said they were "very confident" that treatments were tested in humans only after there is good evidence they are likely to be safe and effective. Among Hispanics and whites, 26 percent expressed the same level of confidence.

The NCI stated that the disproportionate burden of cancer in certain ethnic minority groups is poorly understood and therefore in need of research attention. The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has taken several steps to address that need, including a new study of how culture affects cancer treatment at both San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center and UCSF Medical Center. With funding from the Mount Zion Health Fund, Daniel Dohan, PhD is observing doctor-patient interactions. His findings may help inform future medical education efforts, health delivery systems design and patient education tools to better account for cultural differences. Dohan, a sociologist, is an adjunct assistant professor at the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies.

The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center has also recently formed a community liaison board with representation from leaders in the Bay Area's ethnic minority communities. The board will be charged with developing a strategic plan as well as reviewing the Cancer Center's progress toward the full inclusion of ethnic minorities in clinical trials and other research.

The UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center is an interdisciplinary initiative that combines basic science, clinical research, epidemiology/cancer control and patient care throughout UCSF. The Center's mission is the discovery and evolution of new ideas and information about cancer, from the research to the clinical implementation phases of cancer control.

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