Sylvester Retreat Focuses on Research Progress and Future Goals

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Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has seen dramatic growth in its research programs over the past five years, thanks to its dedicated scientific, clinical and administrative team. At the center of all the efforts are patients.

From left, Chuan Chen, graduate student, No Ma, Ph.D., assistant scientist, Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Sylvester director, and Gloria Mas-Martin, Ph.D., associate scientist, at poster display.

“We strive for excellence and making a difference in the lives of people we touch — that’s what we’re here for,” said Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., kicking off Sylvester’s faculty retreat.

More than 100 cancer research posters lined the Palm Court event space at the Miami Design District on the evening of Friday, May 3. Faculty members, fellows, residents and trainees gathered at the different posters, listening intently as the authors presented a wide variety of abstracts. The venue for the start of the two-day retreat was provided by Craig Robins, a member of the Sylvester Board of Overseers.

During his opening remarks, Dr. Nimer showed an inspirational video of recently retired Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade that focuses on his humanitarian achievements off the court.

“We should never stray from our mission, and our mission is taking care of people,” Dr. Nimer said. “Everyone working in the lab has a hope that what they discover is going to make a difference in people's lives.”

Since 2014, Sylvester’s scientific studies, clinical trials and peer-reviewed funding have all increased substantially. In 2018, there were more than 480 patients accrued to interventional treatment trials under way and 290 publications, compared with 221 patients and 155 publications five years ago.

“Today, we have more than $30 million in peer-reviewed funding, compared with $9.9 million in 2014,” Dr. Nimer said. “That is a truly astonishing increase, because these grants are very competitive and difficult to obtain.”

Those accomplishments and future plans for the cancer center were highlighted on day two of the retreat held at the Shalala Student Center on the University of Miami campus. The morning started with junior and senior faculty mentoring breakfasts and discussions led by Craig Moskowitz, M.D., physician-in-chief for the oncology service line, Kerry L. Burnstein, Ph.D., associate director, education and training, and Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director, population science and cancer disparity.

Round table discussions were organized around site disease groups.

Examples of Sylvester’s continuous growth include the ongoing construction of a new Varian ProBeam Compact proton therapy facility near UHealth Tower, scheduled to open next summer, and the upcoming launch of a second “Game Changer” outreach vehicle that will bring Sylvester cancer screenings and health information to underserved communities in Monroe County.

Dr. Nimer also highlighted the addition of another Sylvester location at the new UHealth medical center at the SoLé Mia mixed-use development in North Miami, now under construction. In addition, he outlined fundraising progress for a new $135 million, 100,000-square-foot research building currently in the planning stage on the medical school campus.

The Saturday session included a panel discussion on “Bringing Together Clinical, Basic, and Population Science,” followed by round table discussions organized around Sylvester’s site disease groups.

“The day provided great opportunities for our clinicians and scientists to share their ideas and look at new approaches to their current challenges and build their professional networks,” said Dr. Nimer. “We will compile the feedback from the day’s sessions and prepare a report on the discussions.” He thanked Barbara Vance, Ph.D., associate director, for organizing the retreat.

Looking ahead, Dr. Nimer said Sylvester investigators are now focused on the cancer center’s 2019-2023 strategic plan. To prepare for the future, a series of forward-looking talks were presented by Sylvester members Anthony Capobianco, Ph.D., director of the molecular oncology program, A. Craig Lockhart, Ph.D., chief of the division of medical oncology, Jaime R. Merchan, M.D., M.M.Sc., director of the phase 1 clinical trials program, Krishna Komanduri, M.D., chief of the division of transplantation and cellular therapy, and Nipun Merchant, M.D., associate director, translational research.

Sylvester retreat participants flash the "U."

Reflecting on the faculty retreat, Dr. Nimer said, “Our goal at Sylvester is to continue to reduce the human burden from cancer through research, education, prevention and the delivery of quality patient care. These discussions will help us continue to deliver fully integrated care and build our international reputation for excellence, while providing new hope for cancer patients in our extended community.”