UCLA launches new Institute of Urologic Oncology

Arie Belldegrun

The Institute of Urologic Oncology at UCLA challenges the traditional model of academic departments operating independently of each other, bringing a multidisciplinary team of scientists and physicians together as part of one cohesive organization. Their goal is to expedite the development of new therapies for patients with genitourinary cancers.

The disciplines represented at the institute include urologic oncology, medical oncology, diagnostic and interventional radiology, pathology, nursing, basic sciences and clinical trials. The new institute will allow experts from these areas to collaborate more efficiently and effectively, bringing to patients the most promising advances in medical and surgical treatments, including targeted therapies, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and minimally invasive and ablative surgery.

"This is a one-stop shop for patients. All the experts will be involved in their care, all working together," said the institute's new director, Dr. Arie Belldegrun, a professor of urology and a researcher at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Our goal is to bring all our resources to the patient, rather than the patient going from office to office to see everyone they need to see."

This multidisciplinary, translational approach to care and targeted therapies was pioneered at UCLA. The molecularly targeted drugs Herceptin, for breast cancer, and Gleevec, for chronic myeloid leukemia, among others, were developed based on research conducted in Jonsson Cancer Center laboratories. Such leading-edge work will be done within the institute to develop new, more effective and less toxic therapies for urologic cancers.

Dr. Dennis Slamon, director of clinical and translational research at the Jonsson Cancer Center, called the institute's research and clinical model "outstanding."

"It's an excellent idea to bring people together from different disciplines that overlap around a disease," said Slamon, whose laboratory and clinical research led to the development of Herceptin. "It creates a synergy that allows us to do things more quickly and efficiently."

Dr. Jean DeKernion, chairman of the UCLA Department of Urology, agrees.

"With this approach, we'll be able to get leading-edge therapies to the patient faster, taking them out of the lab and into practice in much less time," he said.

Patients also will benefit from the institute's top diagnostic tools, expertise in robotic and minimally invasive surgery, and the combined experience of the experts, who often treat the most complicated urologic cancer cases. In addition, a joint, multidisciplinary board representing all genitourinary specialties will meet at the institute to discuss complicated and challenging tumor cases referred to UCLA.

"This unique institute, blending both academic and clinical pursuits, will offer the patient the latest treatments as well as allow researchers and clinicians the opportunity to collaborate in moving cancer therapies forward," said Dr. Gerald Levey, vice chancellor of UCLA Medical Sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

An educational symposium will be held at UCLA on March 3 to celebrate the launch of the institute. The symposium will feature top oncologists and researchers discussing translational research, advances in personalized medicine for prostate cancer, targeted treatments for kidney cancer and the latest in therapies for bladder cancer. Slamon will discuss the lessons learned from the development of Herceptin and how they may apply to prostate cancers. Keynote speakers include Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, and Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, former director of the National Cancer Institute and a former commissioner for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The institute will be housed in temporary space until a permanent, state-of-the-art facility can be built.

About 390,000 Americans were diagnosed with kidney, bladder, testicular and prostate cancer last year, resulting in approximately 56,000 deaths. The institute's goal is to dramatically lower the death rates for urologic cancers.

"Our mission is to offer patients outstanding, individualized surgical and medical care and access to leading-edge experimental therapies with the overall goal to cure urologic cancers," Belldegrun said.