ST. GEORGE – While the completion of the Intermountain Healthcare’s standalone cancer center in St. George is still a year away, a large crowd gathered to sign the final beam to be set in place for a building touted to provide cutting-edge innovations in cancer research and treatment and, most of all, hope for cancer patients.
“I’m one of the lucky patients that will be treated in this facility,” said Kim Valdez, a cancer patient who pointed to the massive, skeletal structure of steel behind her as she addressed the crowd.
Two years ago, Valdez was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and went through an accompanying 18 rounds of chemotherapy. While she thought for a short while she had beaten the cancer, her doctor informed her it had come back.
Valdez’s doctor also ordered some genetic testing to be done based on her family history. This testing found that she had inherited a mutated gene from her mother that made her prone to certain cancers, including the type that her mother died from in her mid-40s.
With the mutated gene discovered, Valdez said she was put on special treatment that has helped combat her cancer.
“It’s more or less given me my life back,” Valdez said. “I’m looking forward to this.”
Valdez’s story is one Intermountain Healthcare officials, doctors and researchers anticipate hearing more and more as cancer research and application continues to move forward.
“When we have this cancer center complete, it’s going to be a place of comfort and care for our cancer patients,” said Dr. Lincoln Nadauld, executive director of Intermountain Precision Genomics.
Nadauld and one of this sons signed the beam with many others prior to to its being lifted by a large crane to the top of the three-story, 118,000-square-foot structure that will house the research facility by this time next year.
“Within the new comprehensive cancer center, cancer patients will benefit from Intermountain Healthcare’s fully integrated health system for diagnosis, treatment, access to oncology clinical trials, and innovative clinical research,” said Gary Stone, vice president of operations for the cancer center.
Medical cancer services and programs will all be set in one location once the center is complete, rather then based in different facilities as they are now.
Among the programs and facilities that will become a part of the cancer center are the Intermountain Precision Genomics core laboratory, the Stanford (University) Genome Technology Center and the Transnational Science Center. These facilities are currently housed at the Rim Rock Plaza nearby.
“It’s a tremendous amount of science and research under one roof,” Stone said.
Stanford University’s involvement and collaboration with Intermountain’s cancer research was also highlighted in the form of it’s genome technology center. The center plays a role in developing ways Intermountain can better sequence the genetic makeup of cancerous tumors. This ultimately helps doctors determine how to best treat cancer patients based on their genetic profile.
“What gets me really inspired by seeing this building go up is the fact that a lot of the discoveries we’re making and the technology we’re developing have an opportunity to be applied to a much bigger patient population here than I could have ever imagined,” said Dr. Hanlee Ji, an oncologist and associate professor of medicine at Stanford’s School of Medicine.
It is a primary goal of Intermountain to be able to take those medical discoveries from the laboratory research bench to the patient’s bedside. This process will be quite literal as research is done in one part of the center while cancer patients are housed and treated in another.
Further aiding in the research will be Intermountain’s “biorepository,” a massive resource of over 4 million tumor samples collected over the last 40 years that medical researchers and doctors will be able to sequence and examine.
While the Precision Genomics lab and related facilities are primarily focused on cancer care, Stone said their research will also aid in finding ways to treat other ailments through personalized treatment based on a patient’s genetics.
“This laboratory will be dedicated to allow for continual, perpetuated discovery and innovation that will transform the history of healthcare,” said Dr. Derrick Haslem, medical director of Medical Oncology and Precision Genomics.
Prior to the signed beam’s being set atop the steel skeleton of the forthcoming cancer center, Haslem predicted the facility will “became a source of healing and hope.”
The $90 million Intermountain Cancer Center is a part of the overall $300-million expansion of Dixie Regional Medical Center that began in 2016.
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