In December, Howard Kaufman, MD, became the first director of the Rush University Cancer Center, which encompasses all of the cancer-related clinical, research and educational efforts at Rush. Kaufman came to Rush from Columbia University in New York City, where he was chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology and director of the Columbia Melanoma Center.
A native of Glenview, Ill., Kaufman received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and his medical degree from Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine. He completed a residency in general surgery at Boston University Medical Center Hospital/Boston Medical Center and fellowships in tumor immunology and surgical oncology at the National Cancer Institute. Rush’s Kevin McKeough interviewed Kaufman recently about his plans for the future and the Rush University Cancer Center.
What are your responsibilities as director of the Rush University Cancer Center?
My goal is to develop a strategic vision for where we’re going, to bring people together and to align the research, clinical and educational missions as they pertain to cancer. In many institutions the cancer center coordinates the research activity, and there’s a service line that coordinates the clinical care, and they’re not always in alignment. One of the big advantages at Rush is that we are now aligning the two to make sure our clinical programs are developing in concert with our research programs. I have direct oversight of both of these functions.
What are your plans for the cancer center’s clinical care programs?
We know now that the odds of a patient surviving cancer increase significantly when multiple specialists are involved in the care of that patient. These specialists include the medical oncologist, the surgical oncologist, the radiation oncologist, the pathologist, the radiologist, the nurse and the research scientist, among others. The kind of creative ideas, treatment planning and approaches that come out of this comprehensive, multidisciplinary way of taking care of patients clearly leads to longer survival for patients.
Our goal is to provide comprehensive care for all kinds of cancer in this multidisciplinary fashion. Some clinical areas already are doing that. For example, there’s a longstanding comprehensive gastrointestinal tumor clinic here that has been doing this for quite some time. Other areas like melanoma are coming together now for the first time. Over the next year, putting together these teams is going to be the major area of focus.
As we move into the new outpatient space on the 10th floor of the Professional Building, which is scheduled to open in January of 2011, there’s another unique opportunity to come together in a truly multidisciplinary way. We’ll have the space for it, and we’ll be able to bring other programs for the patients, like integrative medicine, psychosocial oncology and patient education and resource materials, all under one roof in a state-of-the-art facility.
We have also established numerous disease-site specific tumor boards that review individual patients in a team approach. This provides the patient with complex cancer problems rapid access to a full team of experts and to the individualized treatment plans that often result from such conferences.
How about on the research side? What’s in store there?
We’re beginning to develop a strong team in basic science. There is considerable strength in immunology and a lot of activity in bone biology. There’s also a lot of interesting work going on in behavioral science, preventive medicine and outcomes research upon which we can develop population-based research programs in cancer control and outcomes. This is an outstanding place to begin. Our ability to advance the field is going to go up considerably with some key strategic recruits in basic science that will help augment where we’re going with the clinical programs.
What about clinical research? Where does it stand now and how would you like to see it develop?
There is already a strong interest in clinical trials at Rush, with almost 100 active clinical studies taking place here across a variety of cancer types. There is also very active participation in a number of national cooperative cancer groups — such as the Children’s Oncology Group, Gynecologic Oncology Group and the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group — which bring some of the most important clinical studies to our patients at Rush. In the future, I would like to see this effort expanded so that at least 10 percent of Rush’s cancer patients are enrolled in clinical trials. In addition, I would like to establish a Phase I clinical trials center at Rush in order to make the newest and most innovative drugs and technologies available to our patients. Achieving this goal will require the development of considerable infrastructure, including a clinical trials core resource of nursing, data management and regulatory affairs personnel, bioinformatics and biostatistics support and improvements in tumor banking and clinical data.
You started here in December. Now that you’ve been here a while, what are your impressions of Rush?
Rush already had a well established national reputation for clinical excellence. The patient care here really is second to none. What I’ve learned since arriving here is that there are considerable resources not only on the clinical side but also on the basic and population sciences side. They just need to be harnessed to focus on cancer. If we can bring them to the cancer question, I think we’ll be highly successful in establishing an integrated cancer center.