See video of Dr. Varmus' advice to young researchers
Two influential policy makers visited MUSC's Hollings Cancer Center extolling the importance of maintaining funding for cancer research given looming governmental cutbacks.
Sen. Lindsey Graham and Harold Varmus, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and co-recipient of a Nobel Prize for studies of the genetic basis of cancer, met with press and health care professionals at Hollings Cancer Center (HCC) June 4. Varmus addressed a standing–room–only crowd for a special seminar held at the Bioengineering Building explaining the new themes at NCI of precision medicine, global health and provocative questions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), front, meets with Drs. Andrew S. Kraft, left, Harold Varmus and Ray Greenberg June 4.
Graham, who offered statements to the press before Varmus' presentation, said that South Carolina has disproportionately high rates of some types of cancer and needs to do what it can to ensure that Holling's Cancer Center maintains its research funding. NCI faces a possible funding decrease of 8.5 percent, a drop that Graham described as political malpractice.
The center currently receives $1 million from the institute's $5 billion annual budget that is set to be trimmed.
"For $5 billion, we're making dramatic strides against cancer across the board," Graham said. "The idea of cutting that 8.5 percent makes no sense to me. The amount of money coming into the Holling's Cancer Center has phenomenally increased the ability of people to survive cancer episodes in South Carolina. If government isn't about saving lives and improving the quality of life, what is it about?"
Varmus said he was impressed that HCC was able to get the status of being an NCI–designated cancer center, one of 66 nationally, in 2009. "We at the NCI value our cancer centers very highly. When they pass the scrutiny of our peer reviewers and win the designated status, we know they are strong. We like having cancer centers spread throughout the country and not just in New York, San Francisco and Boston. We're very pleased to find here in South Carolina, you have a strong center."
In his presentation, Varmus covered some of the exciting changes happening in cancer research.
"We're seeing in some types of cancer revolutionary changes in the way we diagnose and treat the disease and new ways to prevent it and to screen for it. We've gone from a time when cancer was a complete mystery to a time now just 20 or 30 years later when we understand exactly the type of changes that occur in our chromosomes that turn a normal cell into a cancer cell. That's had profound implications for prevention, diagnosis and treatment."