By Debbie Gregory.
In his final State of the Union address, President Obama put Vice President Biden in charge of a new national effort to end cancer as we know it.
The goal of this “Cancer Moonshot” is to double the rate of progress toward a cure – to make a decade of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care in five years.
As a result, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) could turn its entire medical system into a nationwide center for excellence for cancer treatment in just a few months. While other agencies focus on research and clinical trials, VA doctors will be putting those advances to work with the goal of saving more veterans’ lives.
“We’re essentially taking expertise that exists in our high-end centers and making sure that it is available in even our most rural centers,” said Dr. David Shulkin, VA’s undersecretary for health. “It’s going to result in different treatment options and better decisions, and making sure every veteran is getting world-class cancer care.”
VA officials will team with IBM’s supercomputer Watson, whose genomics technology program will help pinpoint the best treatment options for veterans battling cancer.
The goal is to help at least 10,000 veterans with the targeted cancer therapies in the next few years. Individualized treatments could be compiled and processed by the supercomputer within a day of the diagnosis.
“And almost every month, there is new discovery in this area,” Shulkin said. “So this is not only helping the patients we’ll see this year, but setting up VA to be the kind of system we all hope it should be for years to come.”
Shulkin said he is excited by the opportunities, especially given the aging population of veterans in America and the growing number of cancer cases VA doctors see each year.
“This is one of our critical areas of focus,” he said. “This is taking what we know is the most advanced, very best way to practice, and really making sure we’re getting that to as many veterans as possible as quickly as possible.”