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Dr. Espat interviewed in Providence Business News

Dr. N. Joseph Espat, director of the cancer center at Roger Williams, was interviewed in the March 30 issue of Providence Business News about the center’s recent designation as an Academic Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Read the interview below:

PBN: The Cancer Center at Roger Williams Medical Center has been designated an “academic comprehensive program” by the Commission on Cancer. Academically, what postgraduate programs do you offer and how are they meeting the need for jobs in these areas?

Dr. Espat: As a major affiliate of Boston University School of Medicine, we offer a number of residency and fellowship programs. In cancer care, Roger Williams offers advanced training in hematology oncology and surgical oncology. We are home to one of only 15 Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited Complex Abdominal Surgical Oncology Fellowships in the nation. This advanced training ensures our graduates are highly valued in both university academic and private practice settings.

PBN: The center is recording more than 500 newly diagnosed cancer cases each year; what percentage find their way to clinical trials and how is that advancing research?

Dr. Espat: Of those new cases, 200 are stage III or IV, which means clinical trials are an option. Each year, nearly 100 of our patients enroll in trials. Dr. Steven Katz, our Director of Surgical Immunotherapy, recently led a phase I trial utilizing CAR-T cells for patients with colorectal liver metastases. CAR-T cells are manufactured in our GMP production facility where patients’ own cells are reprogrammed to identify specific tumor proteins and destroy cancer cells. The treatment was shown to be safe and tumor markers decreased by 39% on average, as opposed to the increase typically seen with standard chemotherapy.

PBN: What key innovative research is the center conducting that could make a difference in future treatment?

Dr. Espat: Since 2009, Dr. Katz and I have led a team building an NIH-funded lab and a phase I clinical trial program focused on metastatic liver cancer and sarcoma. We are the only center in Rhode Island offering these promising immunotherapy treatment trials. Thanks to the success of the phase I trial mentioned above, we have three additional trials opening in 2015-2016.

PBN: What types of cancer are the most prevalent among the cases you see? Are you focusing your research on these or other areas and why?

Dr. Espat: We see a high number of liver, pancreas, colon, head and neck, breast, melanoma, and sarcoma cases. Our team performs more liver and pancreas operations than any other program in the state. Our research is highly focused on metastatic liver cancer, which is diagnosed in more than 100,000 people annually across the country. Currently, surgical removal of liver metastases is the only potentially curative approach. We are trying to advance research to give patients more treatment options.

PBN: How many patients does the center see annually, both new and previously diagnosed cases, and what distinguishes your services from your competitors?

Dr. Espat: Our center handles more than 10,000 visits a year. Roger Williams is home to the only Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in the state. We have six specialty-trained cancer surgeons, which makes us the largest team in Rhode Island and among the biggest nationally. Our Academic Comprehensive Cancer Program designation is achieved by only 13% of cancer programs nationally. We also offer a Geriatric Oncology Program for seniors with cancer. Most importantly, we offer highly coordinated multidisciplinary care so patients can see all specialists under one roof, often on the same day.