Washington, DC — As scientists continue to uncover the lifestyle and genetic factors that play a role in who develops cancer, a newly established center at Georgetown University may help current and future patients better understand their own genetic risk.
A $6.5 million gift from the Robert M. Fisher Memorial Foundation, Inc. will allow Georgetown to strengthen its position as one of the leading hereditary cancer research, treatment and educational programs in the country. The establishment of the Jess and Mildred Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research (Fisher Center) will substantially expand both the clinical and research programs at Georgetown's Vincent T. Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, allowing the cancer center to conduct more research on genetic predisposition to cancer, provide increased clinical trial opportunities and allow physicians to evaluate and treat more patients.
Of the $6.5 million gift, $1.5 million will endow the Cecilia F. Rudman Arts and Humanities Program Fund, substantially expanding the reach and scope of the cancer center's current arts in healthcare program. This is the largest gift to Lombardi's arts and humanities program in its history.
On the Cutting Edge of Cancer Research, Prevention and Treatment
The Fisher Center will be co-directed by Claudine Isaacs, MD, and Marc Schwartz, PhD, associate professors of medicine and oncology at Georgetown. Both Isaacs and Schwartz are nationally recognized cancer researchers, particularly in the area of genetic predisposition and susceptibility for breast cancer, one of the most common hereditary cancers.
“The Fisher Center at Lombardi will be a pioneer in understanding, treating and preventing hereditary cancer. Through prevention, screening and early-detection trials, our ultimate goal is to prevent high-risk patients from ever developing cancer,” Isaacs said.
As part of the gift, Lombardi will be among the first cancer centers in the country to have every new patient complete an automated familial risk profile upon patient registration. This service will allow doctors to more easily identify and counsel individuals who have a high possibility of developing cancer at an earlier stage, leading to prevention of new cancer cases and detection of potential cancer patients at early and pre-clinical stages.
As part of the Fisher gift, Lombardi will be among the first cancer centers in the country where every new patient will complete an automated familial risk profile upon patient registration. This service will allow doctors to more easily identify and counsel individuals who have a high possibility of developing cancer at an earlier stage, leading to prevention of new cancer cases and detection of potential cancer patients at early and pre-clinical stages.
The gift specifically allows Lombardi to expand its research and clinical programs in a number of hereditary cancers, including colorectal, prostate, melanoma and renal cell cancer. This expansion will provide the ability to conduct direct clinical research to enhance the medical, behavioral and psychosocial outcomes of high-risk individuals.
“By combining clinical, family registry and research into one comprehensive program, Lombardi will stay on the cutting-edge of cancer research and treatment. We will continue to provide the highest standards and most integrative care,” Schwartz said.
Gift Enhances Unique Lombardi Arts Program
Lombardi’s Arts and Humanities Program is one of the oldest and most distinguished arts in healthcare programs in the United States. The $1.5 million gift is unprecedented in the field of arts therapy and is by far the largest gift the program has ever received.
“This gift enables us to provide arts resources for every cancer patient and caregiver. We will be able to educate our staff, medical students and oncology fellows about providing compassionate care through the arts,” said Nancy Morgan, director of the program. “Our initiatives will impact the entire Lombardi and Georgetown University Hospital community and beyond.”
Through research and clinical practice the program contributes to an emerging and growing field of arts in healthcare evidence that the arts are a safe, cost-effective intervention that complements traditional medicine and enhances treatment compliance. This gift will build upon Lombardi’s nationally recognized program by expanding it to provide patients, family members and caregivers with activities, resources, education and environments that encourage a creative and constructive response to illness, and offering a number of activities and events for patients including expressive writing, quilting, painting, dance and drama.
The program is designed to show the value of the arts as tools for self expression, coping and communication. Emotional coping is a significant issue for both patients and caregivers.
“When we meet emotional needs, our patients find the strength and courage to transcend the effects of cancer,” Morgan added. “We are very grateful to the Foundation for their generosity and sensitivity to the needs of cancer patients and those who care for them.”
Expanding Education at Lombardi
The gift also establishes the Jess and Mildred Fisher Cancer Genetics Fellowship for newly graduated genetic counselors to train at Georgetown for an intensive three-month summer program. The fellowship will combine training in clinical cancer genetics, behavioral science and exposure to basic science and clinical medicine with Lombardi faculty mentors.
Honoring a Longtime Volunteer
The Robert M. Fisher Memorial Foundation, Inc. gift honors Cecilia “Cookie” Fisher Rudman, a volunteer at Lombardi for nearly eight years, who died Oct. 2, 2002, at the age of 58. A major part of her volunteer work included working on a landmark clinical trial, the P1 Prevention Trial, which led to the FDA approval of the use of tamoxifen as a preventative treatment for breast cancer. Dr. Isaacs, new co-director of the familial cancer program, was the principal investigator of the clinical trial and worked closely with Rudman.
“Cecilia would come twice a week for four hours. I could trust her do anything . . . and [she] was great with the patients,” said Joy Dritschilo, RN, a clinical research nurse at Lombardi who worked with Rudman on the clinical trial. “She was a wonderful, giving person and a close friend.”
“Lombardi was an important part of Cookie’s life,” said John Schofield, one of the trustees of the Robert M. Fisher Memorial Foundation. “I have heard a number of physicians, nurses, administrators and staff speak about Cookie’s involvement at Lombardi, and we knew that a gift such as this was something she would want.”
Rudman also volunteered with the Lombardi Gala Women’s Committee. Her other philanthropic activities included serving on the Washington Board of Directors of the Anti-Defamation League and the Board of Directors of the Washington Ballet. She was also a mentor with the Washington, DC, public school system. Upon her passing, Rudman left nearly $1 million to Lombardi to establish a Distinguished Professorship in Breast Cancer Research to support the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research and Lombardi’s pediatric programs.
The Robert M. Fisher Family Foundation was established in the late 1960s in memory of Cecilia's twin brother, Robert, who died at a young age. Cecilia administered the foundation, which was established to support the family's philanthropic interests and to continue the pattern of philanthropy her family established.
About Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.