After yearslong build-up, officials celebrate cancer center opening

University President Steven Knapp spoke at the opening of the Cancer Center on Wednesday night. Elizabeth Rickert | Hatchet Photographer
University President Steven Knapp spoke at the opening of the GW Cancer Center on Wednesday night. Elizabeth Rickert | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by staff writer Catherine Moran.

More than 200 people celebrated the opening of the GW Cancer Center Wednesday night in the Science and Engineering Hall.

The center features new labs and equipment on the eighth floor of the Science and Engineering Hall. Before the ribbon cutting ceremony, leaders in the University and the center said that this location will help more researchers work together, and that the center will fill a local need for patient care. They added that the resource could inspire Congress to support more funding for cancer research.

Eduardo Sotomayor, the director of the center, joined GW last year after a years-long search to become the inaugural director of the center. Sotomayor said that the center’s opening marks “the beginning of a challenging, but highly exciting journey.”

“I think we are in a unique position to be a cancer center of the future,” Sotomayor said. “We are truly committed to our work, our vision to drive innovative research, personalized patient care and cancer policy. So we are ready.”

Philanthropy played an “enormous role” in the efforts to make the center a reality, Sotomayor said. During the ceremony, he thanked the multiple donors and said that the multiple $1 million gifts helped get the center off the ground.

The center’s floor will house equipment for molecular biology, biochemistry, cell biology work and a facility for patient-derived xenograft model, a preclinical platform that could help predict the effectiveness of targeted agents for cancer patients.

Eventually, 12 to 15 labs will occupy the entire floor, which will provide areas for research focused on cancer epigenetics, immunology and immunotherapy.

The center was announced in 2013 as a collaboration with GW Hospital, Medical Faculty Associates, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Milken Institute of Public Health.

University President Steven Knapp said that when officials were designing the Science and Engineering Hall, there was an interest in making sure that space would be available for future interdisciplinary research, which is why the seventh and eighth floors were “shelled out.”

“We had a notion that we wanted to make sure this was left open for initiatives that are highly innovative,” he said.

Knapp said that he is impressed by the way Sotomayor is assembling the center’s team of researchers from institutions across the country and with collaboration among different schools at GW.

“So if you’re looking for interdisciplinary work, it’s really going to shape the future of science,” Knapp said. “This is one of those places to see it happening on the eighth floor of the Science and Engineering Hall.”

The University established a 10-year strategic plan in 2012 with goals of increasing interdisciplinary opportunities and research.

Knapp said that in 10 years, the center hopes to earn designation from the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center and “join the ranks of the many prestigious cancer centers around the nation.”

“We are very confident under Dr. Sotomayor’s strategic, focused leadership that we will accomplish that goal, but our aim above all is to make sure that we are contributing to the battling of cancer,” Knapp said. “We think we have resources, we have the talent, we have the strategic focus to make a huge difference in that battle.”

Douglas Lowy, acting director of the National Cancer Institute, said that the center supports the NCI’s emphasis on interdisciplinary research.

“I think the opportunities are limitless here,” he said. “I really think the center is in excellent hands.”

Jeffrey Akman, dean of the medical school, spoke at the opening of the Cancer Center on Wednesday. Elizabeth Rickert | Hatchet Photographer
Jeffrey Akman, the dean of the medical school, spoke about the importance of the new GW Cancer Center Wednesday. Elizabeth Rickert | Hatchet Photographer

Ellen Sigal, the founder and chairperson of Friends of Cancer Research, said that the center fills a vital local need for patient care, inspiration for Congress to support cancer funding and interdisciplinary collaboration among scientists.

“GW Cancer Center breaks down artificial silos,” Sigal said. “Here in the nation’s capitol, GW is taking claim to national leadership in the battle to conquer cancer. This is about delivering quality better, better care and hope for patients.”

Jeffrey Akman, the dean of SMHS, said the Cancer Center’s timely opening celebrates a culmination of years of preparation and hard work on the same night that Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which will help fund cancer research.

“It is really perfect timing for us to open a new cancer center and to build a new cancer center,” Akman said.

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