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Long-Awaited Groundbreaking for NCI-Supported Cancer Treatment Center in Puerto Rico

Breaking Ground at UPRCCC

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held last month in San Juan for a $196-million, 287,000 square foot University of Puerto Rico (UPR) cancer hospital. The 12-storey medical facility, scheduled to open in April 2016 and employ 750 people, will offer state-of-the-art cancer treatment and conduct clinical trials. The hospital is part of the larger UPR Comprehensive Cancer Center (UPRCCC) that opened in 2009.

Sanya A. Springfield, Ph.D., CRCHD Director, represented the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the national ceremony hosted by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla. In her opening remarks, she acknowledged that "turning a dream into this wonderful reality, took years of effort and dedication. The driving force behind all of this has largely been this partnership."

The partnership Springfield is referring to is that between UPR and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, which was established a dozen years ago through a Minority Institute/Cancer Center Program (MI/CCP) U54 grant awarded by NCI/CRCHD. MI/CCP, now known as the Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (PACHE), was created to foster long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations between institutions that work primarily with racially/ethnically diverse and/or underserved communities, and NCI-designated Cancer Centers.

"PACHE expands opportunities for cancer research, community outreach, and development of a critical mass of trained scientists form backgrounds typically underrepresented in cancer research," Springfield said. "As a result, UPR has brought new cancer discoveries, education, and prevention programs to underserved communities, with the ultimate goal of eliminating cancer health disparities."

The partnership, in fact, was the catalyst for the law passed in Puerto Rico in 2004 that formally established UPRCCC. The law assigned funding for the construction of a new clinical cancer facility, development of research facilities, recruitment of personnel, and the provision of long-term government funding and support.

UPRCCC, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, not only centralizes Puerto Rico's cancer research and treatment services, but also enhances the cancer care throughout the Caribbean basin and Central and South America. This facility is a huge milestone, not only for the partnership and the UPRCCC, but also for Puerto Rico, itself. It is the island's first facility built specifically to conduct basic, clinical, and epidemiological cancer and cancer health disparities research.

To date, NCI/CRCHD has invested approximately $18 million to support the partnership's initiatives, which also include training students and faculty in cancer research. Since 2002, the partnership has trained 27 Puerto Rican postdoctoral fellows and early-stage cancer investigators. In addition, a joint MD/PhD program and curriculum in cancer medicine, science, and health disparities have been developed and implemented with the first cohort of students set to graduate this year.

UPRCCC is also a huge achievement for Puerto Rico in a broader sense. It symbolizes the future development of San Juan's Science District and supports the Governor's mission to transform the island into a center of biotechnology and cutting-edge medicine.

(See also Spotlight on Marcia Cruz-Correa, CRCHD grantee and cancer researcher at UPRCCC.)

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Updated: 03/14/14