New cancer center gives sneak preview

by Ingrid Sanden

Although the new University Cancer Center building won’t open until July, cancer researchers and survivors celebrated on Sunday the opportunity for collaboration and cooperation that the facility will offer.
Members of the public attended an open house at the building where exhibits explored issues such as childhood leukemia, bone cancer and the emotional aspects of cancer.
Jim McCarthy, associate professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, said the new facility will allow researchers to interact with other doctors.
“The center provides a focal point for cancer research at Minnesota,” he said, adding that the University is one of the country’s leading cancer research institutions. “We can better target research questions.”
The center will also bring together a diverse mix of experts, McCarthy said.
“We draw people of different science backgrounds,” said McCarthy, a 15-year research veteran. “(The center) integrates in a variety of areas. This is a central focal point of research at the University.”
Barb Alter, facilities coordinator for the cancer center, said her 27 years of experience in laboratories helped her plan what was needed in the new facility.
“The labs are very flexible. It’s exciting seeing a flexible system come to life,” she said. “We can change the environment to use technology. This building will move with technology.”
The building’s design allows researchers to have their own lab space but also provides large areas of shared space. Alter, who will run the building, said it will be fully functional in July.
“Here we’re bringing together a group of people with common interests,” said Dr. Jeff Miller, a University blood and bone marrow specialist. “Two things will happen. We’ll be more productive and more competitive for grant money, which is very important in this day and age.”
Miller said he and his staff currently work in the Mayo Building with inadequate work space.
“Space is space, but it’s the structure behind the space that’s important,” he said. “Here we’ll have collaboration and conferences once a week with people of different interests.”
Miller also said he hopes the center attracts professionals and attention.
“I’m hoping a lot of good things will come out from this, not only in the state, but nationally. We have a lot of gifted people here,” he said.
Cancer survivor Donna Lepsch and her husband David agreed with Miller’s sentiments. Donna was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1989 and has been cancer-free for six years. She and her husband said they attended the open house to support Donna’s doctor, Linda Carson, at the University’s Women’s Cancer Center. Carson will be one of the doctors moving into the new facility.
“She’s the number-one drawing card that brought us here today,” Donna Lepsch said. “We’re excited for her.” The couple said they’ve volunteered support for cancer patients and spouses of cancer patients.
“We’ve met so many wonderful people,” David Lepsch said. “We owe this place a lot. In the future we can all conquer cancer. This is going to make all the difference in the world.”
The building’s cost — around $20 million — was funded through private donations. Construction began in April 1994 and the building was dedicated March 30.