OHSU Cancer Institute Honored For Its Commitment To Curing Blood Cancers

12/14/04    Portland, Ore.

The world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research honors OHSU Cancer Institute and its founding director, Grover Bagby Jr., M.D.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has honored the OHSU Cancer Institute and its founding director, Grover C. Bagby Jr., M.D., for demonstrating a steadfast commitment to finding cures for blood cancers and improving the lives of patients and their families.

"The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recognizes Grover Bagby and the OHSU Cancer Institute for its dedication and commitment to our common missions: to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families," said Steve Hooker, a national trustee of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The society is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research, education and patient services. Since its founding in 1949, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has provided more than $358 million for research specifically targeting blood cancers.

"Grover Bagby's vision of a multidisciplinary center for cancer research and treatment brought the OHSU Cancer Institute into being," said Peter Kohler, M.D., OHSU president. "It is under his thoughtful and energetic guidance that the OHSU Cancer Institute has become a world-class organization that is making landmark contributions to cancer research and treatment."

Bagby is a 1968 graduate of Baylor College of Medicine. During medical school, a chance encounter with a cancer patient during an oncology rotation inspired Bagby. She was a young woman critically ill with acute myelogenous leukemia. She also was the mother of three children. Though Bagby met her just a few days before she died, the memory of her continues to profoundly affect his career.

“There was absolutely nothing that could be done for her because we didn't know the first thing about her disease," Bagby said. "My mentor at the time turned to me and said 'Why don't you find out?' That challenge was like a revelation. I knew immediately that I wanted to do it."

Bagby completed a fellowship at OHSU in 1976 and was soon awarded a career development grant by the Veterans Administration, simultaneously becoming a junior faculty member in the OHSU School of Medicine. Bagby focused on his work as a practicing oncologist and a researcher specializing in leukemia and Fanconi anemia, a disorder strongly linked to blood cancers.

Believing that cancer researchers and physicians have everything to gain from working closely together, Bagby championed the creation of the OHSU Cancer Institute in the early 1990s. In 1997 it received National Cancer Institute designation, which brings research dollars and access to a nationwide leadership network, as well as prestige. The 65 institutions in NCI's Cancer Centers Program essentially are NCI's research arm. They investigate the potential causes of cancer and develop therapies aimed at ending cancer.

"It is through the commitment and dedication of professionals such as Grover Bagby and the members of the OHSU Cancer Institute that the Society successfully reaches more than 1,250 patients each year in Oregon and southwest Washington through education programs and support groups," Hooker said.

The OHSU Cancer Institute remains the only NCI center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 120 clinical researchers and basic scientists who are working together to translate scientific understanding into longer and better lives for Oregon's cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists examine cancer to uncover molecular abnormalities that cause disease. This basic science is empowered by more than 200 open clinical trials that test in patients what's been proved in the laboratory.

Today, the OHSU Cancer Institute has four evolving programs: hematologic malignancies, prostate cancer, reproductive malignancies and gastrointestinal malignancies.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is a longtime supporter of the OHSU Cancer Institute's blood cancer research. Brian Druker, M.D., JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research and co-leader of the Center for Hematologic Malignancies, was one of the first recipients of a Specialized Centers of Research grant from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to study molecularly targeted therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia and other forms of leukemia.

It is Druker who, in conjunction with scientists at Novartis, developed the revolutionary therapy Gleevec, a pill for chronic myelogenous leukemia that has become the most celebrated advance in cancer medicine in a generation. By 2010, the society will have provided more than $13 million in support of research by Druker, who also is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"As the first anti-cancer therapy to target only cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact, Gleevec perfectly encapsulates the promise of the OHSU Cancer Institute and, indeed, the promise of 21SI century medicine — the possibility of cures," Bagby said.

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Particulars: Grover Bagby Jr., M.D., is director of the OHSU Cancer Institute; professor of medicine (hematology and medical oncology), and molecular and medical genetics, OHSU School of Medicine; and a member of the Association of American Physicians.