A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

A History of Research



Dating back to 1962—when a new collaboration between the cancer labs and the cardiovascular surgery lab began studies on techniques of whole body and regional perfusion in chemotherapy at Rhode Island Hospital—cancer research has flourished from the basic science level to clinical trials.

One of the early leaders in oncology, Paul Calabresi, MD, joined the Brown faculty in 1968. Based at Roger Williams Hospital, he continued the pioneering oncology research he had been pursuing since the 1950s. He made major advances in understanding the way the body processes and metabolizes chemotherapeutic agents, and was a visionary proponent of combining chemotherapeutic agents as well as of combining therapies—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—to optimize safety and effectiveness. Earning the title “Statesman of Oncology,” Calabresi left his mark not only in research but also in establishing oncology as an important subspecialty and guiding the creation of oncology training programs around the nation. Another pioneer, Charles McDonald, MD, founding chair of the Department of Dermatology, advanced the concept of using chemotherapies for other diseases besides cancer. He went on to be the only dermatologist to serve as president of the American Cancer Society.

To coordinate local clinical cancer research, Brown and its affiliated hospitals founded the Brown University Oncology Research Group in 1994. BrUOG helps launch clinical trials, recruit participants, and collect and analyze data. For decades, the group has offered Rhode Islanders the chance to access the latest therapies, without having to travel to Boston, New York, and beyond. Studies often target hardto-treat cancers like adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, glioblastoma, and pancreatic, rectal, and anal cancers. One such study became the standard of care for pancreatic cancer.

In 2002, Rhode Island Hospital received its first National Institutes of Health COBRE (Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence) grant of $8.2 million to establish the Center for Cancer Research Development. Center investigators conduct multidisciplinary basic science research on the cellular and molecular pathways leading to cancer, with the goal of applying that knowledge to generating new approaches to diagnosis and treatment—an issue of pressing importance in a state with significantly higher cancer rates than the US average. In 2009, the center won an $11.2 million renewal grant.

With the arrival of Wafik El-Deiry, MD, PhD, in 2018, a Joint Center in Cancer Biology was established between Brown and Lifespan. He has worked to build new research collaborations across the Medical School and its affiliated hospitals with a particular focus on the types of cancer most prevalent in Rhode Island, including lung, breast, and bladder cancer. In 2021, the Cancer Center at Brown (which was founded the previous year) received $25 million from Pablo and Almudena Legorreta P’21. The gift is accelerating researchers’ efforts to turn basic science into treatments, and bringing the renamed Legorreta Cancer Center much closer to National Cancer Institute designation—the highest federal rating a cancer center can achieve.

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