Special Issue: Cancer Research Training
Director's Update: Success Against Cancer Depends on a Vibrant, Well-trained Workforce
A 2007 study commissioned by the American Society of Clinical Oncology projected that the demand for oncologists—made particularly acute, in large part, by an aging population—will increase 48 percent by the year 2020. Yet, the study noted that the number of oncologists available to manage the increasing number of cancer patients will rise during those years by just 14 percent.
Statistics like these, stark as they may be, come into even clearer relief whenever I visit academic medical centers across the United States. In addition to concerns about clinical care in the years ahead, these outstanding places of scientific discovery also face the continual need to entice new minds to the field of cancer research.
When the outstanding young doctoral and postdoctoral students working in our labs look to their futures, in academia or in the private sector, they are not sure they see opportunities for jobs as assistant professors. Of even greater concern, they do not see with any degree of confidence a nation aggressively supporting opportunities for a successful career, appropriately supported by adequate grant funds. Having been an academic researcher and cancer surgeon for many years, working with a great many outstanding students, training is a topic that has always been a priority for me on a personal level, and one that I am deeply concerned about when it comes to the future of cancer research.
Clearly, our success against cancer—in basic research, in clinical and translational research, in treatment, and in survivorship care—depends on a vibrant, well-trained workforce. It is, however, a workforce that must meet the wide-ranging and unique needs of its patients. Those include, according to a 2008 Institute of Medicine report, “the wide range of treatment options employed, the number of medical specialists involved in treating each cancer patient, the ongoing medical monitoring required after acute treatment is complete, the psycho-social effects, the important role of family caregivers, and the frequency of clinical trials and experimental treatments.”
Understanding that cancer research and cancer care demand detailed and somewhat different solutions to complex problems, it gives me great pride to report just how strongly NCI continues to respond to the training challenge.
As you will read in this issue, NCI is pursuing multiple fronts: from investigator-initiated grants that bring research teams together from different cities and countries; to institutional grants that are meant to encourage team science on the NIH campus; and through exciting initiatives, such as the Integrative Cancer Biology Program and the Physical Sciences in Oncology Initiative.
Importantly, our traditional grant mechanisms continue to provide strong support for new, young investigators. For example, in the 2009 fiscal year, using appropriated funds supplemented by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars, NCI’s R01 program added 209 new investigators. A cluster of other mechanisms support training and career development in basic biomedical and behavioral cancer research; clinical and patient-oriented research; and cancer prevention, control, behavioral, and population sciences. Another exciting program, the Howard Temin Award, bridges the transition from a mentored research environment to an independent research career.
Despite budget challenges in recent years, NCI has maintained a robust commitment to training, sustaining both extramural and intramural programs at consistent levels. In addition, training was a top priority for use of the funds NCI received under ARRA, particularly in an effort to help new academic researchers at the assistant professor level establish their university careers. Our ARRA spending included more than $76 million in faculty start-up packages made available to research universities; $20 million for programs to help build diversity in the cancer research workforce; and more than $14 million for cancer research training, career development, education, and re-entry into biomedical and behavior research careers.
We must maintain our commitment to training, not only to the next generation of researchers, but also to the continued professional education of established researchers who strive to stay current with technologies and techniques that are rapidly opening new vistas of scientific opportunity. The goals of the cancer research community will change in this new era, when patients will be genomically characterized and their treatments will be based on unique characteristics of individual patients and their cancers.
I hope that this special issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin will help you connect with the multitude of resources that are available at NCI and from other important organizations.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute