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Corey Casper, UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance

Dr. Corey Casper seeks to break the link between cancer and infectious diseases

Early in his career as a physician-researcher, Dr. Corey Casper developed a radical vision.

Casper knew that infectious diseases lead to about 25 percent of all cancers. And he believed that, in a relatively short amount of time, the majority of these cancers could be prevented by vaccines or medications aimed against the infectious pathogen.

Novel strategies targeting the infectious cause of cancer could yield less toxic and more cost-effective therapies for persons who had already developed one of these types of cancer.

But he needed to find a place to study and pilot these strategies efficiently and with maximal impact.

After reviewing the scientific literature and consulting with his peers, Casper traveled to Uganda, a country that is home to one of the world's highest concentrations of infection-related cancers.

His first stop was the country's sole and sparsely equipped cancer clinic, the Uganda Cancer Institute, where a stark reality confronted him.

What he saw was that many of the patients were children, and that most of their cancers had already reached advanced stages and had little hope of cure. He also observed that six of every 10 cancer cases at UCI were caused by an infectious disease.

"It was a terrible situation," Casper reflected. "But not one that was insurmountable. I knew we could help fix these problems though a close partnership with our Ugandan colleagues that focused on innovative research, capacity-building and clinical care."

The challenges facing cancer care providers in low- and middle-income countries are daunting. Even though cancer cases in these settings outnumber the cases of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined, there are very few resources available to prevent or treat cancers, including infectious-related Burkitt lymphoma and Kaposi sarcoma.

Since 2004, Casper and his Fred Hutch colleagues have been working to defeat this growing epidemic through a unique collaboration with UCI. Known as UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance, it has been conducting innovative research and clinical care projects, and is currently building a state-of-the-art research and treatment facility in Uganda's capital, Kampala.

By treating and studying patients with infection-associated cancer in a place that has a high burden of these malignancies, Casper believes we can conduct research more efficiently and accelerate progress against infection-related cancers worldwide. It's all part of his vision of eradicating infection-related cancers and improving the lives of millions of people in the United States and around the world.

"A lot of cancer research focuses on incremental steps towards solutions that might not materialize for decades," Casper said. "But we already know how to prevent several infection-related cancers and we can potentially wipe out the others. This innovative program at the Hutch is an incredible opportunity to significantly reduce the cancer burden worldwide."

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