Winship Sails

New NCI designation puts Emory's Winship Cancer Institute among the top 1 percent in the US

Taking Care: Executive director Walter Curran Jr. with radiation Oncologist Bree Eaton.
Bryan Meltz

This summer, ten Georgia high school students spent six weeks shadowing oncologists and learning about cancer research at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute, where the Summer Scholars Research program is in its sixteenth year. 

They had landed a spot at one of the most elite cancer centers in the country. Around the same time the students arrived, fifty-one Winship experts were recognized in the Atlanta Magazine “Top Doctors” issue, including radiation oncologist Hui-Kuo Shu, one of four local physicians featured on the magazine’s cover. 

Not long after, a ninety-ton piece of equipment called a cyclotron was installed at the Emory Proton Therapy Center in midtown Atlanta, where Winship physicians, nurses, physicists, and other medical professionals will provide patient services when the machine’s super-targeted proton beam powers up late next year. 

All this came on the heels of the May announcement that Winship has earned the prestigious comprehensive cancer center designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), making it the latest to take a place among the top 1 percent of all cancer centers in the United States. 

The designation means Winship has demonstrated that its programs are reducing the cancer burden on the state of Georgia through research conducted in its laboratories, its clinical trial program, and its population-based science. Winship researchers have received $110 million in external peer-reviewed funding through 440 grants that support this innovative research. 

“The NCI comprehensive cancer center designation signifies Winship’s outstanding research and education programs, which are changing the lives of the citizens of Georgia for the better,” says Executive Director Walter Curran Jr. “As the first and only NCI–designated comprehensive cancer center in the state, our clinicians and researchers work tirelessly to substantially lessen the burden of cancer on the lives of Georgia’s residents.” 

Some fifty thousand Georgians will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and about a third of them will receive treatment at one of Winship’s clinical locations in metro Atlanta. Winship research can lead to better ways of detecting and diagnosing cancer, and patients have access to teams of experts using approaches to cancer not available outside of a top research cancer center. Winship has more than 250 clinical trials enrolling patients to help find better approaches to nearly every type of cancer. 

“Winship’s achievement is the result of years of hard work and commitment by many people, both within the university and the greater Georgia community,” says Emory President Claire E. Sterk. “The NCI comprehensive cancer center designation will help Emory expand its extraordinary faculty of scientists and innovative thinkers by attracting new and highly qualified investigators.” 

Governor Nathan Deal called the designation a tremendous honor, adding, “This distinction elevates Georgia as a model for superb cancer care and scientific discovery.” 

The recent NCI designation recognizes that Winship researchers are studying the environmental and genetic issues unique to cancer in Georgia, with the very specific goals of reducing the risk of cancer and detecting cancer at the earliest possible stage. 

“Winship is the only institution of its kind in the state. It has become Georgia’s epicenter of cancer research, education, and care,” says Jonathan Lewin, executive vice president for health affairs and president, CEO, and board chair of Emory Healthcare. “Winship is a gateway to clinical trial enrollment for metro Atlanta and beyond, including our historically underserved populations.” 

Winship patients include former US President Jimmy Carter, who videotaped remarks for the NCI site visit. “I never knew that my own life would be saved by research that was funded through the NCI and its program that laid the foundation for such centers as Winship,” Carter said. “Recently, I needed the very care that I have advocated for.” 

Winship earned its first NCI cancer center designation in 2009, and the grant was renewed in 2012. Established eighty years ago by a foundational gift from Robert W. Woodruff, Winship continues to receive support from the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Fund. Woodruff believed that no cancer patient should have to leave Georgia for treatment. 

“Through outstanding research discoveries and patient care,” says Curran, “Winship is leading the way in ending cancer as we know it, here in Georgia and around the world.” 

That work is also drawing some of the brightest minds in cancer research and treatment back to Georgia, and to Emory. It’s easy to imagine that one or two of those high school students—the ones who spent part of their summer surrounded by all that hope, energy, and will—will someday choose to do the same.

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