Thursday, April 14, 2011

EYE CANDID: "Dr. Abe" and Columbia's low profile Cancer Research Center

The Pink Ribbon Chronicles continue with this Internet-based profile 

COLUMBIA, 4/14/11  (Beat Byte) --  When Cancer Research Center 2011 gala emcee Fred Parry asked cancer "survivors" to please rise, my wife stood up with a quip to our table.

"I just had my well baby check up," she said.  "And I'm officially a well baby now."

It was fitting fulfillment of words of wisdom from our guest of honor --  Abraham Eisenstark, Ph.D. (left"Tomorrow is another day," he said at the podium.  "But tomorrow can also be a better day." 

Saturday evening's Jim Kidwell Memorial Gala -- a virtual Who's Who of Columbia and Boone County -- paid special tribute to the 92-year-old bacteriologist and longtime Cancer Research Center (CRC) director fondly known as "Dr. Abe."

An Ellis Island immigrant from Warsaw, Poland, Eisenstark -- a recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship -- also directed Mizzou's biological sciences program.  On retirement, he took the job at CRC, which may be Columbia's most well-known yet low-profile research institution.

 The Ellis Fischel Connection 

From biochemist Charles Gehrke, who co-founded Columbia's ABC Laboratories, to Nathaniel Rowe, former president of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, dozens of researchers who would later become prominent have passed through the Cancer Research Center. 

It's a testimony to the Center's high-impact and long history that of 16.2 million Google hits on the term "cancer research center," CRC comes in at #2, just below Seattle's world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.   

"CRC began business on the Ellis Fischel Hospital campus," 48 years ago -- in April, 1962, a company history reports.  "CRC remained at this site until January, 1988 when it purchased a six-acre tract of land just north of the Columbia Regional Hospital on Berrywood Drive. An additional 2500 square feet of laboratory space was added to the south wing of the building in July, 1988." 

It seems like forever ago (November 2009) that my wife and I were in the office of Ellis Fischel's chief oncology surgeon getting heart-stopping news:  she had a large, fast-growing breast tumor of the aggressive HER-2 variety, named for the tumor's expression of a certain protein.

It would be science and spirit -- cancer research and lots of prayers -- that would save her life and introduce her to the many other survivors who wear pink ribbons in honor of breast cancer research. 

Cancer researchers have shown that breast cancers come in a variety of types, each of which respond differently to different treatments.   Estrogen and progesterone positive tumors and HER-2 positive tumors are amenable to highly-specialized chemotherapies.  Triple negative breast tumors -- named for their lack of protein receptors -- respond to more generalized chemotherapies.  

Under most conditions, breast tumors also respond to radiation and surgery -- longtime standbys joined by research-driven therapies that have transformed breast cancer treatment.  

This month alone, new research announcements have heralded more good news: 
Combination Overcomes Breast Cancer Resistance to Herceptin and New Nanodrug Breaks Down Barriers to Attack Breast Cancer Cells from the Inside Out.

Bad bugs made good 

Based on his long publishing history -- 80 papers in one Google search alone -- Eisenstark may be one of the world's foremost experts on bacteriological pathogens.

His work at the Cancer Research Center involves genetically altering harmful bacteria so that they destroy tumor cells while leaving healthy cells alone.   With fellow researchers such as Robert Kazmierczak, Ph.D., Eisenstark is studying how Salmonella -- a common food-poisoning bug -- might treat prostate cancer. 

Even more remarkable:  from his book on Salmonella to a paper on the genetics of E. Coli, Eisenstark has been actively publishing, even as he approached his 90th birthday.

A Giving Tree made from Boone County Lumber 

A trio from the Boone County Lumber Co. -- Jim Kidwell, Raymond Freese, and Howard Eiffert -- helped make the Cancer Research Center a success.  Both Kidwell and Freese would later succumb to cancer, but not after working tirelessly to establish and fund CRC's two main roles:  research -- and mentorship.

Helping young people as early as high school develop a hands-on interest in scientific research has long been a CRC mission, supporter and Bank of Missouri president David Keller told me.  Each issue of the CRC annual report carries a section called "From Scholars to Scientists," featuring nearly a dozen high school students and university undergraduates -- tomorrow's lifesavers learning today.

Eisenstark Scholarships, the Ray Freese Memorial Fellowship, and similar grant opportunities continue CRC's outreach for a variety of cancer research.  

"We're going way beyond poisoning, radiating, and cutting out cancer cells," Eisenstark reminds.  "We're developing procedures to stop cancer before it starts and techniques to treat it that avoid destroying good cells.  At CRC, we're fighting cancer hoping you won't need to."  


1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Mr. Martin, for this most complimentary article.

    Marnie Clark
    Administrative Director
    Cancer Research Center