Nov. 21, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 6

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    New cancer program established

    $1 million grant funds research on esophageal cancer A new program in esophageal cancer is being launched at the University with a $1 million grant from the Francis L. Lederer Foundation.

    The Francis L. Lederer Foundation Esophageal Cancer Program will be directed by Everett Vokes, Professor in Medicine and Director of Clinical Investigations at the University's Cancer Research Center, and will be devoted entirely to research and patient-care efforts in esophageal cancer.

    In addition to clinical studies, the grant will allow recruitment of laboratory researchers interested in esophageal cancer and funding of imaginative pilot research projects on the disorder.

    "It was important to our family to help people with this disease have the best clinical care in the future," said Adrienne Lederer, president of the foundation. "The University of Chicago already had a strong program in esophageal cancer, and we hope that this contribution will help researchers build on their past success."

    The investigators will focus on developing novel techniques for earlier diagnosis of this type of cancer, devising innovative therapies to improve prognosis and enhance patients' quality of life and advancing our basic understanding of the biology and treatment of esophageal cancer.

    "We are particularly interested in unraveling the basic genetic and cellular mechanisms that trigger this devastating disease," Vokes said.

    In 1994, the Lederer Foundation sought proposals from several institutions to develop an esophageal cancer program. The University's proposal was chosen based in part on its distinguished research and treatment record with head and neck cancers, its close partnership of medical oncology with radiation therapy and surgery, and its close collaboration between the basic and clinical sciences.

    The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 12,300 new cases of esophageal cancer diagnosed in 1996 -- more than double the number of cases seen 30 years ago -- and 11,200 deaths from the disease. The cancer, which mostly affects men over 50, is frequently quite advanced before it is detected. The initial symptoms, such as difficulty in swallowing, may appear late in the course of the disease.

    Current treatment often involves removal of the esophagus, a major and difficult operation that is not an option for many older patients. Radiation and chemotherapy can sometimes produce long-term survival, "but esophageal cancer remains a disease that we know too little about," said Vokes. "This grant should help us make real strides in understanding this deadly disease, detecting it sooner and improving the survival rates."

    The Lederer Foundation, established in 1967, and the Lederer family have long had ties to the University of Chicago. Francis Lederer was a 1918 graduate of the University and a noted otolaryngologist, serving for many years as department chairman at the University of Illinois. His son, Francis Lederer II, a private investor, received his A.M. from the University in 1967.