In our opinion: Huntsman Cancer Institute has played a groundbreaking role in fight against cancer

Published: Wednesday, June 18 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Huntsman Cancer Institute

Jordan Allred, Deseret News Archives

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Ground has been broken for a sizable new research center affiliated with the Huntsman Cancer Institute that will enhance the facility’s international reputation for advances in the treatment and prevention of cancer. Many of those advances have been groundbreaking in their own right and have led to treatment protocols that have saved lives here and throughout the world.

Construction of the 220,000-square-foot Primary Children’s and Families’ Research Center is the latest effort in a monumental campaign to seek a cure for a disease that despite progress made in recent years continues to have a high rate of incidence and mortality. The new facility will focus on childhood and family cancers, an area of expertise the Huntsman Institute is recognized for internationally.

Jon Huntsman Sr., in speaking about the growth of the institute he founded, told the Deseret News it is now the largest in the world for combined children and adult genetic cancer research. He spoke about future plans for the institute, which will include the eventual construction of what he described as a “very unique cancer center in America that doesn’t exist today.”

In the war on cancer, the contributions of the Huntsman Institute and its affiliates in Utah stand out as unique and notable. Due to a distinctive demography, Utah has provided scientists with an extraordinary tool to track down genetic components of cancer risk. Because of the strong family linkages within the population, as well as a cultural commitment to genealogical research, the development of the Utah Population Database Shared Resource allows researchers to identify genetically based risk factors for a number of diseases, including breast cancer, colon cancer and melanoma.

Decoding the genetic components of cancer is the next major front in the war against the disease. Utah researchers are at the forefront of that battle, as demonstrated by the 2007 Nobel Prize awarded to University of Utah molecular geneticist Dr. Mario Capecchi.

Utah researchers have been responsible for a steady stream of breakthroughs in cancer research, including the recent discovery of links between kidney disease and incidence of cancer. The efforts of the Huntsman Institute and the 67 other designated Cancer Care Centers in the U.S. have contributed to a downward trajectory in the rates of most forms of cancer.

The National Cancer Institute has documented a steady decline in the rate of death from the four most common forms of cancer — those affecting the lung, prostate, breast and colon. Incident rates for all forms of cancer have declined since 1998, and the percentage of those surviving cancer for more than five years after diagnosis has also increased.

But at the same time, rates of some dangerous forms of cancer continue to rise, including rates of melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood cancer, leukemia and cancers of the pancreas, kidneys and liver.

Expanding the research capacity of the facility in the foothills east of Salt Lake City will add to the arsenal deployed in the war against those diseases and further solidify Utah’s position at the forefront of that battle.

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