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Something for Everyone in the Fight Against Cancer

Something for Everyone in the Fight Against Cancer

I invite the entire Dartmouth community to join Norris Cotton Cancer Center in its mission to solve this problem. It’s going to take all of us.

Steven Leach, MD

On Wednesday evening, specialists and trainees in all aspects of cancer research and clinical care from Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC), as well as from Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering and many Arts and Humanities and Sciences programs at Dartmouth College, came together at Alumni Hall for a unique event. The gathering not only warmly welcomed incoming director of NCCC, Steven Leach, MD, but demonstrated the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation toward our common goal of mobilizing in the fight against cancer. As Phil Hanlon, resident of Dartmouth, described in his opening remarks, “A lot of the world’s great challenges are not redressed by a lone scholar or within a single discipline, and instead will demand teams that work across disciplines and generations, the ability to blur lines between basic research, applied research and practice, and a willingness to forge creative partnerships with external entities to draw together around a common interest. Between the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, there’s simply no better environment for scientists, scholars and clinicians to collaborate and produce their best work. What this gathering is about this afternoon is inviting each of you to imagine yourself as part of the work of Norris Cotton Cancer Center.”

Alumni Hall was surrounded with display booths representing each of the six cancer research programs: Cancer Control, Cancer Epigenetics, Cancer Mechanisms, Cancer Imagining and Radiobiology, Immunology and Cancer Immunotherapy, and Molecular Therapeutics. Monitors and posters displayed currents projects and research findings and program directors and members were on hand to network and discuss their research with attendees from diverse departments. Shared Resources, The Office of Clinical Research, Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center and Administration also offered representation at display booths.

Partway through the evening, Duane Compton, dean of Geisel School of Medicine, Phil Hanlon, and Joseph Helble, dean of Thayer School of Engineering, offered brief remarks to introduce Leach. “Steve is embracing every component of every aspect of what our Cancer Center does,” said Compton. “Steve is a true triple threat: an outstanding physician first, a great scientist and an active educator,” added Hanlon. “Kudos to Joe Helble and the entire search committee for bringing him to us, and thank you, Steve, for seeing the promise in the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and recognizing Dartmouth’s unique blend of teaching, research and practice.” Helble acknowledged the successful cooperation of the director search committee, comprised of clinicians and scientists who “functioned fabulously” to form a list 80 viable candidates from which Leach very quickly stood out. “We were struck from the beginning, not just by Steve’s academic and intellectual accomplishments, but by his quiet, calm, clear demonstration of leadership skills and capability,” said Helble.

Between Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock, there’s simply no better environment for scientists, scholars and clinicians to collaborate and produce their best work.

Phil Hanlon

Leach had the opportunity to address the audience after being introduced by Helble. After expressing his gratitude to everyone for coming, Leach remarked, “I’m often asked what attracted me to Dartmouth. Well, look at us! Just look at us. Tonight is a microcosm of everything that thrills me to be here. I was standing over there and, within just a few square feet I met a nutritionist, I met a fruit fly geneticist, I met nurses, I met surgeons, I met family practitioners, I met engineers, I met mathematicians, I even met a cook! This is a remarkable place. This doesn’t happen everywhere.” Met with a chuckle from the audience, Leach admitted that he has learned that NCCC is a “liberal arts” cancer center using engagement of multiple disciplines, sponsorship of creative writing and integrative medicine activities and incorporation of undergraduate education as examples. He emphasized an unremitting commitment to pairing clinical and academic excellence with a culture of collegiality, and putting patients and families first.  Geographically, Leach articulated the unique nature of the area’s largely underserved and rural patient population that “provides us the opportunity to do a lot of good for a lot of people who are in need.”

Leach also expressed opportunity in the fact that, of the 49 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, NCCC emerges as the second to the smallest undergraduate institution. “You could focus on the disadvantages of that, but think of the advantages! It means that we operate on a human scale that allows individuals from incredibly diverse disciplines to interact, both in a planned and unplanned spontaneous way. These often unplanned and highly productive ‘collisions’ between investigators and practitioners from widely divergent backgrounds are really one of the joys of academic life and one of the things that makes Dartmouth unique.” 

Leach went on to discuss the global complexity that is cancer, and how cancer survives and spreads in the body, likening it to evolution and survival of Darwin’s finches of the Galapagos Islands. As Darwin used many disciplines to solve the mystery of evolution in his day, Leach called to action all disciplines in the fight against cancer today. “Solving the problem of cancer will require us to take a similarly multidisciplinary approach. We’ll need to partner and collaborate across every nook and cranny of the Dartmouth campus, not only in the biologic sciences and medicine, but in computational and quantitative sciences, in social sciences, and in arts and humanities. We will literally need an ‘all hands on deck’ or ‘all disciplines on deck’ approach to solve this problem so that we can advance the cures that we discover and effectively deliver them in a way that resonates with the unique cultural, political, financial, psychological and spiritual dynamics of both individual patients and society-at-large. I invite the entire Dartmouth community to join Norris Cotton Cancer Center in its mission to solve this problem. It’s going to take all of us.” 


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