Cancer in Kentucky: Why research matters

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, June 15, 2022

When I think about cancer in Kentucky, I am proud of the tremendous strides we have made to loosen the grip of this terrible disease on our people. But I also know that we have a long way to go.

The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center is the go-to cancer center in the state as the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center in the Commonwealth. We have made incredible progress in advancing medicine and cancer research. New discoveries are happening – almost weekly – that can, and are, changing cancer treatments and saving lives.

Currently, Markey researchers hold about $60 million in cancer-related grant awards. The research this money funds benefits Kentuckians in many ways, but one of the most profound is through the growth of our Precision Medicine Clinic. This clinic is dedicated to the advancement of treatment options for cancer patients of all kinds and stages of health through new clinical trials.

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Clinical trials help us advance treatments and medications that will ultimately save lives through extensive research and the participation of volunteers. Nearly every breakthrough in treating and curing disease is the result of a patient who was willing to give it a try.

Since Markey is NCI-designated, we are able to bring exciting research opportunities to our patients. As a result, patients can take advantage of new treatments, drugs or technologies that are not readily available elsewhere.

Markey currently has nearly 160 ongoing clinical trials.

In addition to medical advancement, cancer research discoveries are making an impact on Kentucky in other important ways.

One example can be found just outside of Lexington, in a sprawling field full of wispy green plants. In a unique collaboration between the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the UK College of Pharmacy, and UK HealthCare, researchers and clinicians are taking Artemisia annua from Spindletop Farm to UK research labs to UK HealthCare patients.

The plant, originating in southeast Asia, has been used as a medicinal herb for centuries and is commonly brewed as a drink. Now, researchers in Kentucky and across the world are looking to determine if this little plant could hold the key to treating several types of cancer, including ovarian cancer and pediatric acute myeloid leukemia (AML). A new phase 1 clinical trial was developed at UK – the first human trial in the world – to test Artemisia annua on this disease in ovarian cancer patients.

Cancer research matters.

The cancer burden in Kentucky is significant. We lead the nation in new cancer cases and deaths – with more than 27,000 new cases and over 10,100 deaths each year.

The UK Markey Cancer Center has more than doubled in patient volume over the last decade. Our research endeavors have grown on all fronts, including our basic research, population science research and clinical trials.

Soon, we hope to take the UK Markey Cancer Center to the next level by becoming a NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center, which would open the door to additional funding – meaning more research, enhanced cancer screening and prevention efforts and more clinical trials. We will see significant improvement in the patient experience at the UK Markey Cancer Center by consolidating services into a new advanced ambulatory care center currently in development.

All of these steps will lead the UK Markey Cancer Center to continued growth as we work to fulfill our critical mission of “Conquering Cancer in the Commonwealth.”

The onus is on us all to change the odds for Kentuckians. We need your help more than ever. When you donate to Markey, you help shape the future of cancer care. You can also contribute to our success by volunteering to provide critical support for patients and families.

From Pikeville to Paducah, every single person has the potential to help change the course of cancer in Kentucky.