Innovation with Compassion:
Rising to the Challenge in the Global Fight Against Cancer
Pictured left to right: Dr. Thomas Herzog, Dr. Olugbenga Olowokure, Dr. William Barrett and Dr. Eric Eisenhauer
Photo by Gaby Rodriguez
“The goal of the University Cancer program is to raise the level of cancer care throughout the whole region, and to maximize the chances of a cure with as low toxicity as possible,” says William Barrett, MD, director of the institute.
The center, which has approximately 90 physicians and 90 researchers, is a hub for cancer diagnosis and treatment as well as oncologic clinical trials and cancer biology research.
“Nobody should have to leave the city to receive cancer care. We should have the expertise here,” says Dr. Barrett. With a broad range of specialties and sub-specialties capable of treating most cancer types, as well as diverse innovation and research programs, this has become a reality.
Among the most impactful of the institute’s innovations has been its approach involving multidisciplinary clinical teams that meet on a frequent basis to review and discuss individual patient cases and determine the most appropriate treatment and care regimen. Olugbenga Olowokure, MD, the director of Inpatient Services, describes the approach as it pertains to the gastrointestinal cancer patients he treats.
“We get together with the surgical oncologist, the interventional radiologists, the diagnostic radiologists, the dedicated GI pathologist, and dedicated GI radiographer,” Dr. Olowokure says. “In this multidisciplinary fashion we discuss new patients to determine first whether at any point in time they will be a candidate for surgery or whether the candidate will get chemotherapy because they have metastatic disease. We have all specialties come together at one time point, and discuss the potential management of the disease.”
Thomas Herzog, MD, the clinical director of the institute, describes a similar approach in his treatment decision-making process for patients with gynecologic cancer.
“It’s bringing all these experts together to look at your individual case from all perspectives and then coming up with a plan that best fits your disease and you as a patient,” he says. “The depth of the sub-specialists who have a narrow focus, that’s what’s really unique.”
This depth enables treatment to be performed by an expert who specializes in a specific cancer type. “The University is the only major academic center in the region so we have a responsibility to have this sub-specialty expertise that you can only have at an academic medical center,” Dr. Barrett says.
One such sub-specialist is Eric Eisenhauer, MD, director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. In the treatment of ovarian cancer, the institute utilizes intraperitoneal chemotherapy, where cancer-fighting agents are introduced directly to the abdominal cavity via catheter. Though developed more than a decade ago, the innovative technique is not widely used.
Dr. Eisenhauer and his team employ it because it works more quickly than chemotherapies delivered through more traditional intravenous methods. The division is also a leader in surgical techniques for late-stage and recurrent cancer. The multidisciplinary approach is key as such complex cases often require evaluation and treatment by gynecological oncologists, urogynecologists, radiologists and plastic surgeons.
“What makes us successful is we have a close relationship with the other members at the center,” Dr. Eisenhauer says. “We’re able to obtain multiple opinions quickly.”
The institute is committed to superior treatment and care through its support of research programs. It has become a global player in the fight against the disease through endeavors that range from elucidating the cellular and molecular aspects of cancer to participation in pivotal, late-phase clinical trials.
As the primary academic institution in the region such inquiry is nurtured. “We have the most robust clinical and translational research platform in the region not only for gynecologic oncology but for all cancers,” Dr. Herzog says.
Research at the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Training (CCTST), which is funded via an award from the National Institutes of Health, is fueled by studies and programs initiated by UC Physicians and Researchers. The initiatives are distributed across the sub-specialty teams and involve investigations into both novel and reapplications for chemotherapies and newer targeted pharmacologic agents, radiologic and surgical therapies as well as diagnostic radiologic imaging.
Research also includes patient monitoring and care. Recently submitted for regulatory approval, the institute intends to apply activity tracking devices to real-time and continuous monitoring for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
“So a Fitbit kind of thing can be used to more objectively assess the patient’s quality of life,” Dr. Herzog says. “This is a tool we can also use for looking at toxicity and side effects.”
The institute also engages in industry-sponsored clinical research trials. Dr. Eisenhauer says that of the approximately 100 open trials, at any given time 15-25 occur with the gynecologic oncology.
“We study developmental therapeutics. Therapeutics that either don’t have proven efficacy or that do but are being reapplied to new cancers,” he says. “Our goal is to provide excellent clinical care today while moving the needle further for future patients.”
Dr. Olowokure furthers the notion on the commitment to research. “The only way that many of us feel we’re going to make progress in the cancer field is by encouraging clinical trials. We like the improvements that have occurred over the last 10 years or so with regards to current standards but we know we can do better.”
In addition to the impact it makes by treating local patients, the institute is working to become a destination for patients from around the world.
“That’s absolutely our goal. We have established an international program,” Dr. Barrett says. “I was in Saudi Arabia last week for that very purpose. I’ve been to Dubai and Jordan and the idea is to attract patients from a distance.”
This is already being realized. James Ausberger, MD, a UC professor of ophthalmology, is a recognized global expert in treating ocular melanoma, a rare tumor that grows in ocular tissue.
And Sadha Verma, MD, an associate professor of radiology, is at the forefront of prostate cancer imaging and conducts clinical workshops on both local and national levels.
Treatment and research are the keys to the institute’s main mission: fighting cancer. “Our goal is by no means for every patient in the city to come to the university for treatment, but we absolutely have to have a positive influence in the care for every patient in the city,” Dr. Barrett says.
Enabled through its compassionate, multidisciplinary and sub-specialty approach, the institute makes the best treatment possible for every patient. Although this might result in the referral to other treatment centers, Dr. Barrett is committed to the mission. “The competition, the adversary is not the other health systems or providers. The adversary is the disease cancer.”
The University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute is located at 34 Goodman Street, Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information, call 513.584.3200 or visit cancer.uc.edu.