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VCU Massey Cancer Center achieves comprehensive status from the National Cancer Institute

Massey’s receipt of the highest level of recognition from the NCI places it among an elite group of cancer centers influencing a new standard of care through research, education and community engagement.

Trevor Dickerson

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VCU Massey Cancer Center has been designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the nation’s principal authority on cancer research and training. Massey’s receipt of the highest level of recognition from the NCI places it among an elite group of cancer centers influencing a new standard of care through research, education and community engagement.

Massey’s director, Robert A. Winn, M.D., is the first African American to lead a cancer center to comprehensive status. Under Winn’s leadership, Massey has effectively championed a community-centered approach, recognizing community members as equal experts and strategic partners in its research efforts.

“We are so proud to reach this milestone, and to be leading the charge not just in research but in building trust and breaking down barriers between medical institutions and communities,” said Winn, who also holds the Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey. “We are truly the first of a new generation of community-focused cancer centers, where world-class science and research is informed by the people we serve, and accessible for all.”

Since beginning his tenure as director of Massey in December 2019, Winn has focused on taking Massey’s mission into the 66 contiguous localities in central, eastern and southern Virginia comprising Massey’s catchment area. With the community’s involvement, Massey has successfully increased clinical trial enrollment, expanded its transdisciplinary research collaboration and strengthened its cancer research training activities.

The NCI commended Massey for its significant strengths in the full spectrum of cancer research, robust pathway for cancer research training and education and plans to further enhance the diversity of its trainees and faculty.

The renewal of its Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) provides Massey with funding for its cancer research programs over five years and makes the cancer center eligible for additional information-sharing and resources reserved for the top institutions that demonstrate superior research capabilities.

The road to comprehensive status

Massey was one of the earliest cancer centers designated by the NCI in 1975, just four years after the NCI Cancer Centers Program was created as part of the National Cancer Act of 1971. The comprehensive designation is earned through a peer-review process demonstrating excellence in laboratory research, population science and clinical research.

NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers must conduct transdisciplinary research that bridges those three scientific areas, show that they are effective in addressing cancer concerns in their catchment area through effective community outreach and engagement, and that they integrate cancer training and education of biomedical scientists and community health care professionals.

“This important national designation reflects our mission and our commitment to the highest levels of treatment, research, prevention and control as we focus on improving and saving even more people’s lives,” said VCU and VCU Health President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “VCU and Richmond were among the first in the country to establish an NCI-designated Cancer Center, and I have pursued this comprehensive status for Massey soon after I came to VCU. During that time, we have taken our efforts to extraordinary levels to benefit all patients in need and the many communities we serve throughout our diverse Commonwealth. This comprehensive designation demonstrates that we put the needs of patients and our communities first. I am particularly grateful to my dear colleague, Rob Winn, for his extraordinary work in the last few years that catalyzed our ability to achieve this pinnacle level with the National Cancer Institute.”

Reducing the cancer burden in Virginia

With Massey’s new comprehensive status, those living in its catchment area are promised even greater access to life-saving cancer screenings and clinical trials offering leading-edge treatments, more resources for critical education about cancer risk and prevention, and care informed by the top scientific minds brought to Massey through recruitment as well as its training of the next generation of physician-scientists.

“This is an incredibly exciting moment for Massey and VCU Health, and for the patients and families who come through our doors,” said Paula Fracasso, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, deputy director of Massey and senior vice president of the cancer service line at VCU Health. “With the increased funding from our CCSG, we will have additional research dollars to extend our reach into the forefront of science and translational work, that will provide better ways to predict, prevent, diagnose and treat our patients with cancer.”

“We celebrate Massey’s achievement as a huge win for our entire institution, and one that will help us continue to raise the bar for excellence at VCU Health,” said Marlon Levy, M.D., FACS, interim senior vice president of VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health. “The dedication to innovative research and education and to advancing health equity is a clear reflection of our health system’s core values.”

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.