Posted: March 5, 2019

The Penn State Cancer Institute aims to provide access to high-quality cancer care for residents in central Pennsylvania.

Access to quality cancer care is a challenge for residents of Pennsylvania who live within the "catchment area" of the Penn State Cancer Institute (PSCI), which comprises 28 counties and more than four million people. Three of these counties lack mammography sites, and five have only one site. This is significant, as breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in this region. A third of the counties do not have chemotherapy services and half do not have a hospital that is accredited by the Commission on Cancer. Some of these issues are due to the rural nature of many counties in this region, but some counties in the catchment area also contain pockets of populations that exhibit higher risk for developing cancers due to their ethnicity, obesity, and tobacco usage.

As a land-grant university, the mission of Penn State is to conduct research, educate students and Pennsylvania residents, and provide outreach to the citizens of the Commonwealth. The University is on track with the "Enhancing Health" priority of its 2016-2020 strategic plan. Included in this priority is Penn State's commitment to supporting the PSCI, which comprises 220 faculty members spanning all campuses and colleges, including 16 members from the College of Agricultural Sciences. It is a multidisciplinary and collaborative research engine that can be translated into educational, clinical, and community outreach programs that benefit the citizens of central Pennsylvania.

Currently, Penn State and the PSCI are working to apply for National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. NCI designation would likely lead to an increase in NCI-funded research grants, improve the University's capabilities to undertake and complete clinical trials with unique drugs, and improve the overall recognition of Penn State as a world-class cancer center. Because the PSCI is an integrated, collaborative cancer center that harnesses the interdisciplinary expertise of diverse PSCI members at all Penn State campuses, NCI designation will also lead to recruitment of new investigators and clinicians, expand and enhance investigator-initiated clinical trials, allow for development of novel cancer prevention and treatment approaches, and importantly, improve access for underserved rural and high-risk patients to cutting-edge cancer care.

While the PSCI benefits from members across the University, researchers in the college also contribute unique expertise to the mission of the institute. For example, in the Departments of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and Food Science, PSCI members are investigating the cellular mechanisms mediating carcinogenesis and identifying food sources that might be used for the prevention or treatment of cancers. In the Department of Animal Science, a PSCI member developed a unique model of ovarian cancer.

Since it is envisioned by PSCI leaders that with NCI designation, the number of members in all colleges will increase, there is good reason to suggest that faculty members in all of the college's departments will have opportunities to participate in this University-wide endeavor. This is due to the diverse nature of departmental faculty expertise ranging from:

  • Community outreach and population sciences in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education and in Penn State Extension
  • Potential development of food products with chemopreventive properties in the Department of Plant Science
  • The multidepartment Microbiome Center
  • Possible work linking environmental chemical exposures to human cancers in the Departments of Ecosystem Science and Management and Agricultural and Biological Engineering

College faculty members will continue to demonstrate their outstanding strengths in cancer research, education, and community outreach.

A recent $25 million gift from Highmark has helped the PSCI toward its goal of becoming designated by the NCI. Your support can further help the college achieve this goal and better help underserved cancer patients in central Pennsylvania and beyond.

For more information about how to support this University-wide goal, please contact Jennifer Miska at .

By Jeffrey Peters, Distinguished Professor of Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis and the deputy director of the Penn State Cancer Institute.