UAMS-UA Fayetteville Host Joint Cancer Research Retreat

By Susan Van Dusen

Hosted by the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, “Building Statewide Collaborations toward NCI Designation” served as a chance for researchers at both Arkansas universities to share ideas, build collaborations and learn about resources available to support their work.

“By working together, cancer researchers at UAMS and UA Fayetteville can harness the expertise of both institutions to further develop our state’s research programs. We were thrilled at the turnout for this year’s virtual event and feel certain that new collaborations and projects will come from it,” said Alan Tackett, Ph.D., retreat organizer and associate director for basic research at the UAMS Cancer Institute.

The retreat focused on ways the two institutions can work together to strengthen the UAMS Cancer Institute’s pursuit of National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designation.

NCI Designation is awarded through a highly competitive assessment process during which cancer centers must demonstrate outstanding depth and breadth of high-quality cancer research, including basic laboratory, patient/clinical and population-based research.

Achieving designation would provide many benefits for UAMS and Arkansas, including greater access to federal research grants, increased access to cancer clinical trials and the creation of new, high-paying health care jobs.

Kyle Quinn, Ph.D., associate professor in the UA Fayetteville College of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering, assisted in organizing the retreat. Administrative support was provided by Sonet Weed in the UAMS Cancer Institute Administration.

The daylong event opened with a series of speakers, which included Tackett and other leaders from both institutions:

  • Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., UAMS senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost
  • Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor and Cancer Institute director
  • Dorothy Graves, Ph.D., associate director of UAMS Cancer Institute administration
  • Wesley Stites, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for research at UA Fayetteville
  • Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for research and innovation

Additional sessions highlighted the Cancer Institute’s four research programs and gave scientists the chance to share their program’s opportunities and advancements. The programs include Cancer Biology, Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, Developmental Therapeutics, and DNA Damage and Host Response.

Community outreach and engagement efforts were highlighted by Laura James, M.D., UAMS associate vice chancellor for clinical and translational research, and Pearl McElfish, Ph.D., MBA, vice chancellor for the UAMS Northwest Arkansas Regional Campus. Community outreach and engagement is a major component of the NCI Designation process and must demonstrate the Cancer Institute’s commitment to serving the entire population of Arkansas.

Virtual poster sessions provided participants the opportunity to break out into small groups for information about specific projects underway at both institutions. Topics ranged from cancer genomics and tissue analysis to cancer metabolism and nuclear signaling and regulation.

Junior faculty members at each institution closed the event by highlighting their breast cancer research projects.