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Home > Resources > Disease Specific Info > NCI News & Information > NCI Director's Oral Remarks

Remarks by Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., Director

Swearing-In Ceremony
Feb. 4, 2002

*This text is the basis of Dr. von Eschenbach's oral remarks. It should be read with the understanding that some of the material may have been added or omitted during the original presentation.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

What an incredible privilege to be a public servant and to join the ranks of so many talented and dedicated individuals who have sacrificed in order to serve others. What an incredible privilege to have all of you gathered here today, to recognize and celebrate my becoming the Director of the National Cancer Institute. What an incredible privilege to have the trust of the President of the United States of America and the support of Secretary Thompson. And what an incredible privilege to be a part of the National Cancer Institute with its great history of achievement.

But today, while I stand before you as a man of great privilege, a child born with a genetic defect that causes a malignant tumor of the eyes underwent surgery - and while his parents were told he was cured, the child said, 'mommy, I can't see.'

Today, while I stand before you as a man of great privilege, a young mother raising her family was told she has breast cancer and will begin a life-long struggle marked by successful remissions and tragic recurrences.

And today, while I stand before you as a man of great privilege, a grandfather who worked and sacrificed all of his life now will spend years anguishing over whether he made the right decision for his prostate cancer or will be told death is certain to result from his metastatic lung cancer.

Today, Mr. Secretary and distinguished guests is not about my privilege but rather about the mission I humbly accept. A mission to join with each of you to eliminate the burden and suffering of cancer.

This is my moment, but it is our time.

It is our time to realize the fulfillment of our hope to eliminate the burden of cancer - for ourselves, for future generations, and for our world. This is a hope that in large part was created because of the National Cancer Institute and now, by working together, it is a hope we will translate into freedom from suffering and into saved lives.

When I arrived on this campus a few short weeks ago, I was keenly aware of the privilege of being the Director of the National Cancer Institute, but I was even more overwhelmed by the enormous weight of the responsibility. I took a walk down to the pavilion in front of Building One, and I looked up at the title The National Institutes of Health. And then I looked down at the plaque honoring my dear friend from our days on the Board of the American Cancer Society, the Honorable Paul Rogers, and I read the inscription of his quote made 30 years ago at the creation of the National Cancer Act, '...without research there is no hope...'

Because of that vision 30 years ago, the commitment of our nation and the effort of so many and the leadership of this NCI today the world now knows real hope for a solution to cancer. Research has led us to fundamental understanding of the genetic, molecular and cellular processes that are responsible for the development and progression of a malignant tumor.

Today, we are beginning to exploit this knowledge and to develop novel interventions to detect, halt and even prevent this malignant process. We are realizing that the cancer cell is much like a participant in a bizarre decathlon, and in order to succeed it must successfully compete in a variety of events. To overcome our defenses, a cancer must be able to grow or proliferate; it must be able to invade surrounding tissues; and it must be able to spread and metastasize, grow again and become resistant to therapy.

Today, because of research, there is real hope that tomorrow we can intervene in a variety of ways at a variety of places along this malignant decathlon and defeat the cancer. Already we are seeing actual novel therapies - such as STI 571 that interfere with the cancer's metabolic machinery - being delivered to patients with far advanced cancers with astonishing results. Dr Vogelstein has told us of being able to use this sophisticated understanding of abnormal cancer genes to devise innovative ways to detect early cancers.

These great achievements, however, are only proof of principle; they are not the complete fulfillment of the hope. The malignant process is very complex and there is so much more we need to learn. Basic research must continue. And my mission as Director of NCI will be dedicated to continuing to promote and enhance cancer research.

That means enhancing our commitment to the RO1 grant mechanism, to ensure that investigators have the opportunity and resources to pursue promising research ideas. It means developing and nurturing the work of young investigators with intriguing research ideas. And it means strengthening our commitment to collaboration and communication - especially with other institutes at NIH. This is especially important because breakthroughs in cancer research may be dependent upon progress in other disciplines. And because progress in our understanding of cancer may be applied to other diseases, such as diabetes, AIDS, and Alzheimer's.

But though the study of the biology of cancers in a test tube and under the microscope and in an animal model is essential, we must always remember that cancers exist in a person and the person is as important as the tumor. Research must be done to evaluate the "real-world" story of cancer's behavior in human populations and in the individual person.

In addition to understanding the tumor, we must also understand the human host There are great horizons we must explore in this dynamic interaction. And so it will be important to always go beyond the laboratory, to the clinic and bedside. As we apply these interventions we must also use the clinical experience to inform our next laboratory investigation.

But even when all the studies are complete, when our understanding of the complex disease we call cancer is complete, hope will not have been fulfilled. Without research there is no hope, but when hope exists - as it does today and tomorrow?it must be translated to saved lives and reduced suffering.

Dr. Freeman has reminded us of the toll and burden that cancer places upon our citizens - most especially upon those who are underserved or underprivileged. We must do what we can to help deliver what we have achieved through discovery. To do this, we must look for new, creative ways to work together. As Director, I will work to foster the cooperations, collaborations and consortia that are the key to a comprehensive solution to the cancer problem.

Our hope for the elimination of cancer is our nation's agenda, and it is the mission of the National Cancer Institute to lead and assure that agenda is fulfilled. But no matter how great the Institute, the goals of the National Cancer Agenda will only be achieved when we work together as a society. Federal agencies outside the NCI and NIH - state and local agencies, and importantly private institutions, organizations and advocates - must forge creative partnerships. My mission will be to work with you to go beyond individual agendas to seek the synergy we require. Our differences in perspective and expertise are eclipsed by our identity of purpose.

Today, the Secretary has commissioned me with a great mission. Today, the President has renewed his commitment to provide the support we require to carry out this mission. And today, I stand before you having been granted the greatest privilege of my life. It will be my mission to serve each of you in assuring that the hope that has been created by those who have gone before me at the National Cancer Institute will be a hope that is realized.

A hope that will be translated into the realization of a little boy with retinoblastoma who can be cured without being blind. A hope that will be translated into the realization of a mother prone to breast cancer who will raise her family without fear, and a hope that will be realized by a grandfather who will enjoy the fruits of his long labor with assurances of life rather than death.

Today, this is my privilege; for every day, this will be my mission.

Let me close with a message to my families - both personal and professional?who make possible this privilege and this mission. To my mom and dad and brother - thank you for creating the life in me; and to Madelyn and our children - thank you for breathing life into me every single day. If there is honor and privilege in this day it belongs to you.

To my professional families - first to all the faculty, staff and patients at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I spent the last twenty five years learning the possibility of hope through research and the purpose for that hope to save lives. If there is purpose for my mission, it is a purpose I learned with you.

And to my new professional family at the National Cancer Institute - in just a brief period, you have made me feel welcomed and accepted, and I have been inspired by your talent and dedication. If there is a success in store for my mission, it will come from serving you.

Mr. Secretary, Dr. Kirschstein, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, our President and our nation have placed great trust in us and, as he said last week in his state of the union address: "We are reminded that we are citizens with obligations to each other, to our country, and to history."

Today, he reaffirmed his pledge to provide us with the resources we require. We are a nation blessed with the privilege of serving each other and the world. We have been offered a unique mission to rid the world of cancer, and we must not let this moment pass.

I ask that you please pray that God will guide me and I will pray that God will continue to bless you, the NCI, and America.

Thank you.