The National Cancer Institute (NCI), first established in 1937, is the primary federal agency responsible for cancer research and training. In 1944, it became part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of 11 agencies that make up the US Public Health Service (PHS) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Over the years, the NCI’s role and responsibilities have expanded as greater focus has been brought to fighting and curing cancer. This was especially true in 1971 when the “War on Cancer” began with the passage of the National Cancer Act.
The National Cancer Act brought a renewed spotlight on efforts to find a cure for cancer. The Act created the National Cancer Program, a coordinated national effort to understand the causes of cancer and to develop new and improved treatments. The NCI oversees the National Cancer Program, which supports research and training as well as the dissemination of information related to cancer. In addition to studying the causes and prevention of cancer, the program also encompasses issues related to treatment, rehabilitation, and the care of cancer patients. The goal remains to eliminate cancer as a major cause of death in the US.
Research Centers and Funding of Research Efforts
The National Cancer Institute has research facilities in Bethesda, Maryland and at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland. The NCI has a network of cancer centers around the country and coordinates with voluntary organizations and international agencies focused on fighting cancer. As part of its responsibilities, the NCI conducts research in its own labs and coordinates research projects at universities, hospitals, and research foundations through research grants and cooperative agreements.
Although there have been significant developments in the treatment of some types of cancer, it remains a major cause of death in the United States. The NCI continues to fund new and innovative cancer research projects. One of the new research approaches is the Human Genome Project, which is designed to study and map the DNA changes that are found in different cancers. The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Project recently received $175 million in Recovery funds to continue this important research. An understanding of the genetic factors related to cancer may lead to early detection techniques, new treatment therapies, and preventative measures.
Clinical Trials Involving Mesothelioma
The National Cancer Institute is also the coordinating center for clinical trials for all types of cancer, including mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. These research studies are undertaken with cancer patients in an effort to test new and promising approaches to cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Presently the National Cancer Institute lists almost 60 clinical trials for patients with mesothelioma. Many of these clinical trials test the efficacy of various combinations of chemotherapy drugs for patients with mesothelioma. Although Cisplatin and Alimta have been the standard treatment for mesothelioma patients, not all patients respond to these chemotherapy drugs. Accordingly, clinical trials testing new drug combinations are underway, including combinations that include such drugs as Gleevec and Gemcitabine.