Cancer Center Partners With State Agency On National Database

NEW BRUNSWICK –A new partnership between The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ), the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) will create a Center of Excellence for Cancer Surveillance to help track, examine, prevent and control cancer.  CINJ is a Center of Excellence of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Through the partnership, the Center of Excellence for Cancer Surveillance will look at cancer incidence across the state with a goal to foster collaborative studies on cancer data.  The main component of that Center is the New Jersey State Cancer Registry (NJSCR), which is an NCI-Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database utilized by researchers nationwide to conduct population-based and other studies pertaining to cancer.


“This partnership strengthens the Department’s commitment to provide comprehensive cancer data and trend information that enables New Jersey residents, health care providers and cancer researchers to better understand how New Jersey is affected by cancer,” said NJDHSS Commissioner Poonam Alaigh, MD.  “We are excited to continue providing comprehensive data that supports innovative cancer research.”

The SEER database is considered to be the most authoritative source of information on cancer incidence and survival in the United States.  The NJSCR is one of only 18 registries in the country that are part of the SEER program, and has been providing population-based incidence data from New Jersey to the SEER program for more than three decades.

The NJSCR is an important source of information for health care providers, public health officials and administrators. The information it contains is widely used by clinicians, scientists, and researchers. Data on cancer patterns in the population can be very useful for preventing and controlling cancer and improving treatment and patient care. The data are also used to respond to questions from New Jersey residents on cancer issues and concerns. In addition, incidence rates in New Jersey are shared with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NCI for analyses including comparison with other states and the nation. The data collected by the NJSCR can be useful for describing cancer patterns in the population, discovering causes of cancer, planning programs for people affected with cancer, and other related research.

Leading the NJSCR as its director is John J. Graff, PhD, MS, who also serves as chief of the Division of Cancer Bioinformatics and Surveillance in the Department of Radiation Oncology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.  Dr. Graff joined CINJ this past July.  He was formerly the co-principal investigator of the Metropolitan Detroit SEER Registry at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, having worked with the Detroit registry since 1995.

“A cancer registry embedded within the culture of discovery, scientific excellence, multidisciplinary research and collaboration that is present in New Jersey will produce a cascade of tangible benefits including the generation and application of new knowledge that will not only serve the purpose of meeting the NCI’s challenge, but also will further the missions of CINJ, the state and population health,” said Graff.

In overseeing the NJSCR, Graff will provide investigators with opportunities to study various cancer aspects that are of importance to New Jersey and to cancer research in general in order to increase the understanding of environmental, genetic, socio-cultural, and other influences that affect cancer prevention and control.  The initiative will serve as a key resource for population-based studies, survivorship research and disparities exploration, which are anticipated to lead to the creation of applications for “personalized medicine” as well as the next generation of cancer research tools.

Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at CINJ and an associate professor of epidemiology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the UMDNJ-School of Public Health, is a leading researcher in diet and cancer prevention and utilizes the SEER database frequently in her work. “The NJSCR is an outstanding resource for epidemiologists in and outside of New Jersey.   Having this collaboration between CINJ and NJDHSS will facilitate more population-based multi-disciplinary studies in New Jersey, with great potential to improve our understanding of factors influencing cancer development and survival,” she said.

Through the development of the partnership between CINJ and NJDHSS, the NJSCR has been able to maintain the federal funding that supports it and apply for additional funding from new sources.  Leaders from both NJDHSS and CINJ credit CINJ’s NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center designation as being a key component to achieving the necessary support in bringing the initiative to fruition.

One of the key funding agencies that served as a springboard in the development of this partnership is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which in 2007 awarded CINJ $12 million to help grow its population science program and other initiatives. CINJ has leveraged this support not only to attract key faculty members and funding opportunities surrounding the NJSCR, but also has utilized these enhanced resources to build collaborations throughout the state and nation.

CINJ Director, Robert S. DiPaola, MD, associate dean for oncology programs at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, says the new partnership surrounding the NJSCR in particular will lead to job creation and the strengthening of New Jersey’s economy. “Given the demand for the quality data resources available in our joint Center of Excellence, we expect that we will enjoy continued requests for collaboration from within and beyond our institutions and state,” said Dr. DiPaola.  “This will position New Jersey as a valuable cancer research resource not only to our state and its citizens, but also to the nation and beyond.  CINJ is proud to undertake such a responsibility.”

One such resource expected to come from the initiative is the development of a new Epidemiology Services Core at CINJ.  The effort, to be led by Graff and other CINJ faculty, will serve CINJ members in the areas of population-based investigations and cancer etiology, treatment and control.

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