A few minutes with … Dr. Tom Lynch, Yale Cancer Center director

An interview with Dr. Tom Lynch, director of the Yale Cancer Center, about the state of cancer research and care today, and where he thinks it will go in the future.
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Dr. Tom Lynch became director of Yale Cancer Center in early 2009, on the threshold of an era that would bring radical growth and transformation for researchers, clinicians, and, most importantly, patients. Lynch has been credited with bringing both vision and perseverance to the center and its mission, and his efforts recently resulted in the renewal of Yale Cancer Center’s designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center for another five years.

Although Yale Cancer Center was, back in 2009, considered one of the premier cancer centers in the country, its physicians and researchers, like all in the field, were stymied by continuing grim survival statistics for many cancers; conflicting evidence about what, if anything, prevents or promotes cancer; and a drug development process that seemed hopelessly mired in financial and regulatory quagmires.

Lynch, who received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Yale, returned to New Haven to face those challenges.

Today the landscape has changed. Over the past few years, cancer research has moved full throttle into personalized medicine, where therapies are tailored to a person’s individual molecular and genetic profile. Cancer immunology has taken center stage, with tantalizing indications that the human immune response may indeed be able to fight off certain cancers just as it fights viruses and bacteria. Lynch’s team was pivotal in figuring out, through crucial drug trials, why cancer sometimes evades the immune system, and how the body can overcome that evasion through therapies aimed at specific molecular targets.

On top of all that, a new hospital dedicated to cancer research and patient care opened at Yale. Just a few months after Lynch’s tenure at Yale began, the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven opened its doors to its first patients. Lynch is Smilow’s physician-in-chief.

“Yale Center Center is growing through a period of enormous growth and development,” Lynch said. “Probably the centerpiece of this has been the establishment and building of the Smilow Cancer Hospital.”

Since Lynch’s arrival and Smilow’s opening more than 90 renowned researchers and clinicians have come to Yale to focus on cancer research and treatment – and, in a major initiative, cancer prevention and control. “We’re looking at why people get cancer,” Lynch explained. “What kinds of dietary and environmental impacts cause cancer? We’re exploring the fundamental causes of cancer at both the genetic and cellular level.”

Lynch has also made a concerted effort to get more patients into clinical trials, where science can be turned into life-saving treatment.

The NCI designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center is the most prestigious designation from the institute, and is shared by only 40 other cancer centers in the country. Yale’s renewal includes more than $12 million in funding to support the cancer center’s research programs and shared resources, and comes just as Smilow Cancer Hospital celebrates its fourth anniversary.

YaleNews met Tom Lynch in his office looking out at Yale-New Haven Hospital to talk about how Yale Cancer Center has grown, along with cancer research and care. Learn what he had to say in the video above.

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Helen Dodson: helen.dodson@yale.edu, 203-436-3984