GW Celebrates Interdisciplinary Innovation with Opening of Cancer Center

The GW Cancer Center brings experts from across the university together to focus on cancer research and patient care.

December 9, 2016

Cancer center

Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell (left), President Steven Knapp, Director of the GW Cancer Center Eduardo M. Sotomayor, SMHS Dean Jeffrey S. Akman and MFA President Anton Sidawy open the Cancer Center on Wednesday. (Logan Werlinger/ GW Today)

By Kristen Mitchell

A new era in research at George Washington University began with the official opening of the GW Cancer Center Wednesday evening. With a focus on patient care and collaboration, the GWCC will be a beacon of innovation, said President Steven Knapp.

“If you’re looking for interdisciplinary work that’s really going to shape the future of science, this is one of the places you’re going to see that happening,” Dr. Knapp said.

The GWCC was established in 2015 as an umbrella organization for all the cancer-related activities going on at GW. It leverages the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the GW Medical Faculty Associates, GW Hospital and the Milken Institute School of Public Health to focus GW’s efforts on patient care and cancer research.

Eduardo M. Sotomayor, director of the GWCC and a SMHS professor of medicine, said the center is positioned to be a pioneer in cancer research, policy, education and outreach.

“Today is the beginning of a challenging, but also highly rewarding, journey,” he said. “We are ready to work hard, to be innovative, to be bold because we want to achieve a common goal.”

The GWCC seeks to position itself as the premier cancer care facility in the D.C., area. Since Dr. Sotomayor was named GWCC director in May 2015 he has been busy assembling a team of researchers and doctors to focus on immunology and precision medicine.

Dr. Sotomayor said the center aims to earn a designation from the National Cancer Institute within 10 years. There are currently only 69 NCI-designated cancer centers that form the backbone of NCI’s programs to study and manage cancer. This prestigious designation would signify the GWCC’s leadership in the field and wide range of research.

The center occupies the eighth floor of Science and Engineering Hall, a space that was carved out for new projects when construction on the building began in 2011. The eighth floor features seven new cancer research labs, 19 offices, 60 workstations and common meeting areas. When the floor is filled the space will include 12 to 15 labs focused on modifying gene expressions, studying the immune system and using the immune system to fight disease.

University leaders including Dr. Knapp, Dr. Sotomayor, Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell, Provost Forrest Maltzman, Vice President for Health Affairs and SMHS Dean Jeffrey S. Akman, SPH Dean Lynn Goldman, Associate Dean of SMHS and Associate Vice President of Health Affairs Vincent Chiappinelli, CEO of GW Hospital Kim Russo, Trustee Jay Katzen and Chair of the Board of Trustees and President of the GW Medical Faculty Associates Anton Sidawy participated in a ribbon cutting on Wednesday to mark the opening.

Attendees had more to celebrate than just the GWCC Wednesday.

Dr. Knapp applauded the U.S. Senate for overwhelmingly approving earlier in the day the 21st Century Cures Act, which will authorizes nearly $5 billion in funding for medical research initiatives. A portion of that will go toward Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot. The bill already passed the House of Representatives.

“I hope some of that work will be going on right here because this is where those cures are going to be developed,” Dr. Knapp said. “The basic science that underpins those will be happening here.”

Ellen Sigal, founder of the advocacy group Friends of Cancer Research, said it is clear the GWCC will play a significant role in cancer research innovation. The center fills a vital local need for patient care that will have national implications. Dr. Sigal hopes people in power recognize the exciting research happening in the heart of Washington, D.C.

“May the progress you make in Congress’ backyard inspire them to support our mission and the mission of all cancer research,” she said.

Douglas Lowy, acting director of the National Cancer Institute, said now is a good time to get more involved with cancer research because of the enormous need for improved treatments and the significant advancements being made.

“I really think the center is in excellent hands,” Dr. Lowy said.