November 12, 2002
Louisiana has the highest cancer mortality rate in the nation, according to the American Cancer Society. That doesn't mean that Louisiana residents are more likely to get cancer, but it does mean that if they get it they're more likely to die from it.
The reasons for that are complicated, according to Roy Weiner, director of the Tulane Cancer Center, but probably have a lot to do with the fact that this is a poor state where many people can't afford to make health maintenance a top priority. Which is why he is pleased to see the state make a major investment in cancer research with the founding and funding of the new Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium.
The state legislature recently increased the cigarette tax by 12 cents, of which five cents will go the new consortiuma framework that will literally bring the cancer centers at Tulane and Louisiana State universities under one roof. The new increase brings Louisiana's cigarette tax to 36 cents per pack, still below the national average of 49 cents per pack. Each cent of the tax is expected to yield $3.7 million annually.
"Cancer mortality is the biggest problem the state faces," according to Weiner. "The only way we can solve it is by learning everything we can about the biology of cancer." He believes that basic research will lead to better ways of detecting cancer early and to methods of interfering with the development of cancertechniques that will make current treatments for cancer look crude. "The money that's invested in basic research is trivial compared to the money that could be saved by earlier detection and better therapeutics," Weiner said.
Even so, research is expensive. And money attracts money. It is hoped that the state's investment will help grow the consortium to a size that will make it a contender for recognition as a National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center. There are 60 such centers across the United States, but none in Louisiana, Mississippi or Arkansas.
"For either Tulane or LSU to reach that goal alone would be a real stretch," Weiner said. "Together, we're very optimistic of getting there in three to five years."
The consortium and the new resources that go with it also will make it easier to attract high- caliber, established researchers to New Orleans.
"We're recruiting people who will make an instant contribution and help us prepare for long-term sustained growth. Once we have people who are proven mentors, then we can recruit talented young post-docs with confidence that they will succeed here."
The cigarette tax will fund a new Cancer Research Building, probably on Tulane Avenue, as well as equip-ment and instrumentation. The two cancer centers will share the space, with each retaining its separate identity within the consortium.
"The scientists require very expensive and sophisticated equipment, but by bringing them together in the same building we will avoid expensive duplication and be able to purchase instrumentation we couldn't otherwise afford," Weiner said. "Also, bringing these people together in a modern research structure will foster unprecedented interaction."
Cancer researchers at the two schools are already collaborating on bench science in molecular genetics and signal transduction and in clinical research. One of the major goals of the consortium is the development of innovative cancer drugs, which would lead to better care for patients and new income from new business ventures for the universities. In addition to basic research, the consortium will take on a statewide smoking cessation initiative and an active role in planning statewide cancer prevention and early detection programs.
Heather Heilman may be reached at email@example.com.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org