Cancer Center at Illinois set to coordinate UI's effort in fight

Cancer Center at Illinois set to coordinate UI's effort in fight

URBANA — There's some new muscle on the way in the war on cancer.

The new Cancer Center at Illinois is being launched to bring together more than 90 faculty members, plus graduate and postdoctoral researchers, from across the local campus to pursue advances in cancer-fighting technologies and treatments.

The new center, to be housed at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, will formalize and build on the cancer research activities already underway across campus, according to Rohit Bhargava, a UI bioengineering professor and the center's founding director.

Establishing this cancer center also lets the world know the university has a strong cancer research focus, he said. And it could pave the way for a multimillion-dollar renewable source of funding.

"It shows that your institution is committed to this direction," Bhargava said.

Specifically, the UI has set its sights on a National Cancer Institute designation for the new cancer center. The application preparation will take about a year, Bhargava said, but if approved, the designation would come with money.

"In the beginning, it would be about $10 million over five years," he said.

There are about 70 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers across the U.S., with most of them focused on clinical care, Bhargava said.

The Cancer Center at Illinois doesn't plan to venture into clinical care, but hopes to join the handful of NCI-designated cancer centers focusing on scientific research, he said.

This new center is being launched at a time cancer ranks as the nation's second-leading cause of death. This year alone, more than 600,000 people are expected to die from the disease and more than 1.6 million new cases have been projected to be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.

The new center will devote its efforts to four programs, including next-generation diagnostics, engineering systems, molecular mechanisms of cancer and social and behavioral sciences, Bhargava said.

The cancer center has had widespread support, he said. Coming together in the planning have been the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute along with the Beckman Institute, the College of Engineering and the Department of Bioengineering.

The IHSI, which was formed to organize and support cancer research at the UI, will continue its work to strengthen partnerships at the campus and clinical level.

Bhargava said UI cancer researchers already have a strong partnership with the Carle health system. Other clinical partnerships include the Mayo Clinic and Illinois Alliance and links through the UI Chicago, he said.

Dr. King Li, the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine's inaugural dean, will serve as the Cancer Center's deputy director.

Bhargava is both a cancer researcher and educator. He pioneered the field of digital molecular pathology, using spectroscopic imaging to study cells, according to the UI. He also leads the National Institutes of Health-supported Tissue Microenvironment Training Program for graduate students and the undergraduate Cancer Scholars Program.

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