The federal government has named the University of Maryland's Greenebaum Cancer Center a national cancer center - a distinction that comes with $3 million in research money over the next three years and that will open the door to additional grants, studies and cutting-edge cancer drugs.
The Greenebaum center's recognition by the National Cancer Institute was announced yesterday at a news conference at the university medical complex in Baltimore.
"The NCI designation means that the cancer center possesses a unique combination of excellence in care and clinical research," said E. Albert Reece, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Maryland officials applied for the recognition last year, highlighting the center's clinical trials and its work with the University of Maryland's Institute of Human Virology. Researchers have collaborated on ways to prevent and treat cancers that affect people with HIV and AIDS.
Officials said the Greenebaum center has made a huge effort to work with its surrounding community and recruit African-American patients for clinical trials. The overall cancer death rate for black men nationally is 37 percent higher than for white men.
About 40 percent of the center's patients are black, about half of whom participate in clinical trials. Nationally, fewer than 2 percent of black cancer patients take part in trials, said Dr. Kevin J. Cullen, the Greenebaum center's director.
Leon Burns, CEO of the software consulting firm Open Technology Group in Silver Spring, is enrolled in a drug trial at the center. Burns, 55, a patient at the center for four years, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, even thought he has no family history of the disease and has never smoked.
"You always have questions, but I have minimal concern about the drugs," he said of the trial. "A lot of off-the-shelf drugs did not work for me."
Burns, who spoke at yesterday's news conference, expressed gratitude to center officials. "There is an extreme amount of compassion here at the University of Maryland, coupled with knowledge and skill," he said.
Nationwide, 23 facilities are designated cancer centers, noted for their first-rate research, treatment and education. An additional 41, including Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, are known as comprehensive cancer centers and are rated even higher.
The Greenebaum center's award comes at a time of budget cuts on the federal and state levels, making new research money tougher to come by.
The center receives state funding from the Cigarette Restitution Fund, which is used primarily for recruiting new researchers, Cullen said. But spending cuts this summer ordered by the General Assembly have affected the center and paint a gloomy picture for the future, he said.
The $3 million from the National Cancer Institute, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health, will help during a time of belt-tightening, Cullen said.
"In tough budget years, nothing is guaranteed," he said. "Now we are eligible to compete for money pools from NIH and access to clinical trials and new drugs that are essential."