With the opening of the new clinical research center, Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Director Dr. J. Carl Barrett and CCR Clinical Director Dr. Frank Balis shared their thoughts on this new hospital and the role it plays in NCI research.
What are some of the differences between the NIH clinical center and other hospitals?
Dr. Balis: The NIH's clinical center is the world's largest hospital dedicated solely to clinical research, and houses over 50 percent of the NIH-funded general clinical research center beds in our country. Medical care is provided without charge to patients enrolled on clinical research protocols. And the clinical center also provides the unique opportunity to recruit patients from across the U.S. to participate in our trials.
Dr. Barrett: I think another important feature is that the inpatient units in the new clinical center are discipline-based and are shared by multiple NIH institutes that have common clinical research interests, such as bone marrow transplantation. A substantial proportion of the NCI clinical program's research laboratories are located in the same facility and are in close proximity to the patient care units. This design promotes collaboration between NIH institutes, improving the efficiency of the NIH's clinical research efforts and expanding the areas of scientific and clinical expertise involved in the clinical research projects.
What are some of the unique aspects of the NCI clinical program?
Dr. Balis: The NCI clinical program is distinct in that it provides close links among the basic, clinical, and epidemiologic scientists in a comprehensive, diverse, and highly interactive environment that promotes exceptional translational research opportunities. NCI's clinical program also routinely makes long-range commitments of resources to support high-risk translational research.
Dr. Barrett: Increased collaboration is definitely an advantage offered by the clinical center. The close collaborations among scientists with diverse backgrounds enable the NCI clinical program to fuse new technologies with biology and perform clinical studies that emphasize science-driven, concept-based trials. Since the clinical center draws patients from throughout the country, understudied diseases, cancers with increasing incidence, or cancers involving special populations can be studied here. It also enables us to realize the full spectrum of intervention development from the discovery of agents to their subsequent development into the clinical setting.
Is it fair to say that the clinical program and CCR really play a major role in achieving NCI's mission?
Dr. Balis: Definitely. CCR is widely recognized as a leader in developing novel interventions in the areas of immunotherapy, molecularly targeted therapies for cancers and viruses, and vaccines against cancer and other diseases. And CCR plays a unique role at NCI, enabling us to rapidly focus resources on understudied and rare cancers as well as genetically susceptible populations.
Dr. Barrett: Something that is demonstrated every day in the clinical center is that we continually apply the newest treatment approaches and technologies to clinical research and practice. Our pioneering work in technologies such as imaging and serum proteomics are having a dramatic impact on early diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for cancer patients. And, again, collaboration is a critical part of our work. CCR is actively participating in several trans-NIH initiatives that focus on establishing interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research teams to advance basic, translational, and clinical research for the most complex and challenging diseases.