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Editorials, Charlotte Observer, August 3, 2007

In a legislative session where the rank and file have taken a beating for tardy passage of the state budget, delays in tackling ethics complaints and general criticism for not having been overly productive, the N. C. General Assembly has done something extraordinary. It has created a cancer research fund in an effort to make UNC hospitals the national leader in public cancer research and treatment.

It is an audacious plan, financed in next year’s budget with $25 million and the following and succeeding years with $50 million annually in research. In 2009 the new N.C. Cancer Hospital, authorized by the legislature in 2004, will open as the clinical home of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. UNC School of Medicine Dean William Roper says the research funding will be “ a transformational gift” not just to the center or the UNC Health Care System, “but to the people of North Carolina.”

The plan, state officials said, is for N. C. citizens who face battles with cancer to think not of other high-profile national cancer centers such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York or M.D. Anderson in Houston, but of the UNC Lineberger Center and the new facilities in this state.

North Carolinians won’t have to travel halfway across the country or face enormous medical bills, says state Sen. Walter Dalton, D-Rutherford. They’ll be able to get help right here in a program that, he said,” will be “the brightest gem of them all.” The center already treats citizens from all 100 N.C. counties.

These are high aspirations for health care in a state that only a couple of decades ago was lacking the resources to tackle such a huge health problem. But the legislature, to its credit, has begun appropriating significant sums for all manner of scientific research at various campuses. The new cancer center is especially important because there are 41,000 new cases of cancer each year in this state and 17,000 cancer deaths. It is, says Dr. Roper, “an economic, social and personal burden for our state and affected families.”

Dr. Shelton Earp, director of the UNC Lineberger Center, is positive the new research center will produce results. There are too many new cancer cases, too many deaths and too many therapies that are toxic. That’s unacceptable, he said, but all of these issues are “researchable questions” the new funding will address. Research, he said, is the key.

The General Assembly deserves thanks for making cancer research a priority. Many legislators, like many citizens, have fought cancer themselves, or have had family or friends affected by cancer. In a legislative session often tainted by political acrimony or allegations of personal wrongdoing, lawmakers have made a vital investment in the health of millions of citizens – and given many of our people struggling with cancer real hope. We say: well done.