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Another Voice: Roswell is at the cutting edge of cancer treatment

By Brian Higgins

Science magazine – America’s leading scientific journal – deemed cancer immunotherapy as the 2013 “Breakthrough of the Year.” Four years before that declaration, Roswell Park Cancer Institute had established the Center for Immunotherapy Research. Unlike traditional chemotherapy that targets cancer cells, immunotherapy targets the body’s immune system – T-cells and antibodies, which are directed by the treatment to seek out and destroy cancer cells.

Cancer immunotherapy uses several strategies to unleash the cancer-killing potential of the body’s own immune system. Immunotherapy drugs have shown remarkable results in patients with advanced cancers, which is important because less than 10 percent of cancer deaths are attributed to the original tumor. It is when cancer spreads, or metastasizes, to a vital organ that the disease becomes deadly.

This treatment offers hope for longer remissions without the debilitating side effects.

Under the leadership of Roswell Park’s Dr. Kunle Odunsi, clinical trials are testing the safety and efficacy of immunotherapy, and that success is fueling excitement in the cancer community about immunotherapy as a next-generation cancer treatment.

Roswell Park has a rich history of firsts in cancer research: America’s first cancer center and the first publicly funded cancer research over a hundred years ago. The discovery of chemotherapy, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, photodynamic therapy and groundbreaking studies linking cancer and smoking. These studies have informed public policymakers and have influenced personal health choices.

Roswell Park competes for federal research dollars with 44 other national cancer centers. The institute has $81 million in research grants and 542 active research projects and was recently awarded $33.8 million in new federal research funding.

This success is attributed to the outstanding leadership of Roswell Park’s first woman CEO and president, Dr. Candace Johnson, and is a testament to the dedicated researchers and clinicians whose work she inspires.

The new Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center is a gift of commitment and generosity to Roswell Park’s next generation of researchers and patients.

Roswell Park’s only promise to its more than 200,000 patients each year is hope and the potential for healing.

As a community, Western New York needs to continue to back the institute, with federal and state support, so that when the next major discovery in cancer treatment is made, it is made right here in Buffalo, once again, at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, represents the 26th Congressional District.