All Ireland-NCI Consortium Rolls On
Approximately 2 years ago, in a special issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin, there was a photo of Dr. Joe Harford, head of the NCI Office of International Affairs, with several dignitaries, holding a scale model of a new cancer research facility to be built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. About 2 weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the newly constructed facility, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) on the campus of Queen's University Belfast.
The construction of this state-of-the-art facility, which is scheduled to be completely open early next year, could not have happened without the support of the Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium, which is now entering its seventh year and is helping to transform cancer research and care across the island of Ireland.
My tour of the CCRCB was led by Professor Paddy Johnston, the center director, and coincided with my participation in the third All Ireland Cancer Conference and the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding that will keep the consortium operating another 5 years.
The conference was invigorating and enlightening. For me, it highlighted the tremendous progress being made on the island of Ireland to overhaul its cancer research and care infrastructure - progress in which the consortium had a heavy hand.
The consortium's value, however, extends well beyond the success it has experienced in its short existence and its impact on patient care. It can serve as a model for countries that are committed to more aggressively addressing the public health burden of cancer. It's also an ideal example of the impact NCI is having beyond our country's borders.
Through the consortium, NCI has provided extensive training to clinicians and scientists from Ireland and Northern Ireland. More than 100 have participated in NCI's Cancer Prevention Summer Curriculum or NCI's 3-year Cancer Prevention Fellowship program. In addition, 16 nurses have been trained at NCI in clinical trials management and cancer care.
These nurses already are playing a crucial role in a revitalized clinical trials program on the island. Thanks to the efforts of the consortium's Clinical Trials Working Group, for instance, the All Ireland Clinical Trials Cooperative Group has been established, and it is actively collaborating with similar groups in Europe and the United States. In fact, several Irish patients are participating in a National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project-led phase III colorectal cancer treatment trial.
Also, the development of a national TELESYNERGY® program continues to progress. This integrated telecommunication system will allow clinicians at large medical centers to consult with and advise clinicians caring for patients in more remote parts of the country.
Meanwhile, work done by the consortium's Cancer Registries/Epidemiology Working Group has led to collaborative studies using existing cancer registries in the north and south, including the FINBAR study, which is focused on the etiology of esophageal cancer and has already resulted in several published papers.
These efforts represent just a sampling of the consortium-related activities. It's almost impossible not to feel a tremendous sense of optimism from what's been accomplished to date. Perhaps most impressive to me has been the successful public smoking ban in Ireland and a similar forthcoming ban in Northern Ireland, both of which provide undeniable momentum toward reducing the burden of cancer.
As NCI forges ahead in our commitment to addressing the cancer burden worldwide, we can look to the All Ireland-NCI Consortium for proof that we should expect nothing less than progress on this front.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber