MD Anderson Announces Moon Shots Program's First Successes After One Year

The goal of the Moon Shots program can be summarized in one sentence: Significantly lower the risk of death from some of the deadliest cancers. Like the one Bree Sandlin of Katy had to battle.

Sandlin was 37 when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer last year.

“Triple negative is a disease that is very aggressive, much more difficult to treat, higher recurrence rate, higher mortality rate, so pretty scary prognosis.”

It’s one of the cancers the Moon Shots program is tackling. In the first year after its launch, project teams have identified and developed flagship projects for eight cancers.

Ron DePinho, president of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, says those include different types of leukemia, lung, skin, ovarian and prostate cancer.

“Which by the way collectively has about 50 percent of the total cancer deaths, so while it’s just eight cancers, it’s a significant number of mortality for cancer.”

Moon shots programDePinho says the program focuses on prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship.

For example, all patients diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer now get genetic testing and counseling. And there’s an outreach to family members of cancer patients to identify those who could benefit from preventive screening.

And, DePinho says Moon Shots improves the collaboration among doctors, researchers and other groups.

“First and foremost, it’s bringing teams together that can execute on the knowledge that exists today. For example, we recently were successful in inspiring our legislators to pass tanning bed legislation to protect children under the age of 18 from the cancer causing effects of tanning beds.”

In its mission, the hospital is also getting help from an IBM supercomputer called “Watson.” The computer learns from each new cancer patient and can help clinicians create patient-specific treatment plans.

Bree Sandlin, after chemotherapy, surgery and radiation at M.D. Anderson, is in full remission today. But although she did not yet directly benefit from the Moon Shots program, Sandlin says just knowing about it helped her mentally.

“At this point it’s going to really benefit future cancer patients, but for me what it was was optimism and hope and the knowledge, A, that, you know, they’re doing so much now to prevent this from happening in the future. If I ever get a recurrence, they’re going to be able to stop it before it gets too far.”

The program isn’t cheap, which is why the hospital hopes to get two-thirds of the estimated $3 billion cost from grants and donations.

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