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Hopes High as UCSF Breaks Ground for Cancer Research Building

By Lisa Cisneros, UCSF Today | April 17, 2006

As a symbol of hope for those suffering from cancer, UCSF supporters and staff gathered under sunny skies at Mission Bay on April 5 to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building.

"This is a great omen," said Peter Carroll, MD, chair of the UCSF Department of Urology, as he acknowledged the remarkable change in weather from the recent daily deluge of rain to warmth and sunshine.

Carroll, who will lead studies in prostate cancer research in the Diller building, said he is "deeply humbled by the confidence and support" shown by contributors, including the Diller family, who donated funds for construction of the facility.

The Helen Diller family, who contributed $35 million in October 2003 -- the largest contribution from individual donors in UCSF history -- attended the symbolic groundbreaking. Helen and her husband even handled shovels to pose for a photo opportunity with UCSF Chancellor Mike Bishop, David Kessler, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, and cancer researchers.

"It's really an honor and a privilege to be part of this project. It's very rewarding," Diller said.

Designed by noted architect Rafael Vinoly, the five-story building will more than double the existing space dedicated to cancer research at UCSF. The building is scheduled for completion and occupancy in late 2008. For Diller, who was contemplating donating funds for cancer research, UCSF was her first choice over other cancer centers in the country. Cancer has hit close to home, she said, causing the early demise of her older brother Harry Samuels as well as a close young friend.

"I hope we find a cure for this dreadful disease," Diller said. "If anyone can do this, it's UCSF. I want UCSF's cancer center to be the biggest and the best. I have high expectations that they'll do it."

Dramatic Expansion

The Diller building will provide more than 160,000 square feet to researchers at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only cancer center in Northern California to hold the National Cancer Institute's prestigious "comprehensive" designation. The new space will enable a dramatic expansion of programs focused on cancers of the prostate, kidney and brain. It will also house the UCSF Cancer Research Institute, whose 15 major laboratories investigate the basic biological mechanisms of cancer.

"It is important to note that scientists will have a grand vision and will work tirelessly for a better future," said Carroll, adding that research conducted in the new building will lead to better understanding of the molecular basis for all types of cancer.

Indeed, the building, which will supplement the ongoing cancer research program at UCSF Mount Zion, will house researchers working on the entire gamut of modern cancer research, including studies on cancer prevention, the role of environmental factors and genes that contribute to cancer risk, analysis of tumor suppressors and oncogenes that directly influence the behavior of the cancer cell, discovery of new molecular markers that indicate the existence of cancer and its degree of aggressiveness and response to therapy, and ultimately new pharmacological, immunotherapy and gene therapy techniques for cancer treatment.

For Mitch Berger, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, the building provides an opportunity for UCSF to tackle the brain tumors and malignant diseases that he treats routinely. "I just hoped we would have a building to bring us all together and allow us to maintain the preeminence that UCSF has achieved in brain tumors for nearly four decades."

Berger says that the 16 brain tumor scientists and clinicians are already working on discovering new genes responsible for causing brain tumors, and are investigating novel ways to deliver new drugs to treat the disease. In addition, the team is looking at stem cells to identify the potential origin of adult and childhood brain tumors, work that will continue and undoubtedly flourish in the Diller building, Berger said.

Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, director of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and of the 15-faculty-member Cancer Research Institute, was ecstatic about the expansion of cancer research and the opportunities for collaboration in the Diller building.

"Yee-haa," he exclaimed heartily. "That's an American phrase which captures our excitement about the groundbreaking."

(Note that in November 2007 the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center was renamed the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.)


Read more at Lisa Cisneros, UCSF Today