As a gathering of donors sat attentively in an area of the new Robert C. Young, M.D., Pavilion of Fox Chase Cancer Center, they heard: "It's a good match. Two organizations bringing together the best of hearts and minds."
So said Dr. Michael Seiden, president of Fox Chase, recently as he welcomed guests of the American Associates of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to "Collaborating Across Cultures," a celebration of the cancer center's partnership with Ben-Gurion.
"We have brilliant scientists who are solving the riddles of what causes cancer," he said.
Fox Chase and Ben-Gurion formalized their relationship in 2008, but it actually began as a partnership in 2003 to explore genetic risks of cancer and to incorporate these factors into clinical practice across cultural settings.
Ben-Gurion is one of a number of strategic partnerships for Fox Chase.
"We look for like-minded institutions that are not identical," said Seiden.
Doron Krakow, executive vice president of American Associates of Ben-Gurion University, explained that in developing the prototype for what would become the medical center named after him, former Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's "vision was to create a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurture the Negev community, and share the university's expertise locally and around the globe."
During the evening, physician/researchers from both institutions discussed their work and the benefits of the partnership.
Jacob Gopas, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Ben-Gurion, spoke about a long-standing interest in viruses and cancer.
Through the partnership, he met Glenn Rall, associate professor and principal investigator, and co-leader of the Immune Cell and Host Defense Program at Fox Chase, who also served as the evening's moderator.
"We have common research interests; we want to understand the biology of the measles virus," said Gopas, who has visited Fox Chase twice as part of the partnership.
Exiting Comfort Zone
Rall agreed: "Collaborations tend to fuel the most exciting and interesting projects. They are an opportunity for us to get out of our comfort zone."
He and Gopas have applied for funding to continue this research.
"Please tell me why that when women want to buy a refrigerator, they do extensive research. Yet when they must be treated for breast cancer, they often go to the nearest place?" asked Dr. Michael Koretz, director of the Elisheva Eshkol Breast Health Center and assistant professor of surgery at Ben-Gurion's Goldman Medical School.
"And we also know that breast-cancer patients who are treated at a multidisciplinary cancer center tend to do better," he noted.
Koretz discussed the changes he has seen since the late '70s in treating breast cancer: "In the beginning, we performed a radical mastectomy" — where the breast and underlying chest muscle is removed — "and by 2005, when appropriate, we were performing oncoplasty," a combination procedure where the surgeon removes the cancer, and then can move around the remaining tissue to reconstruct the breast.
He has visited Fox Chase three times as part of the professional relationship.
"At this rate," he predicted optimistically, "by 2015, we could see the end of surgery for breast cancer."
Dr. Stuart Lessin, director of the Dermatology-Cutaneous Oncology Program at Fox Chase, discussed how the race is on to develop an optical biopsy to determine skin cancer.
"Melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer — could be found earlier if we had the imaging technology to scan the skin," he said. "As it happens, a scanning device to analyze and diagnose skin lesions is being developed at Ben-Gurion."
A Ben-Gurion graduate student is now working with him at Fox Chase to test the technology and conduct research, added Lessin.
As Gopas concluded: "If we succeed in our common projects, the knowledge gained will help many."