Genome Research the next frontier
The walls of John Mendelsohn's office at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are crammed with celebrity photos and memories. Amid images of Henry Kissinger, Lance Armstrong and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mendelsohn points to one of George H.W. Bush skydiving on his 75th birthday with the cancer center's emblem emblazoned on the chute.
"He and Barbara Bush have been incredibly generous with their time. They lost a child to cancer. It still brings tears to his eyes when he talks about it," Mendelsohn said. "That same illness in that same child today has a cure rate of over 70 percent. When that happened in the '60s it was very difficult to cure a child. So there's an example of the kind of progress that's been made."
During Mendelsohn's 15-year tenure as president at the world-famous institution, a lot of progress has been made in the fight against cancer. Under his leadership, Anderson has more than doubled in size, research projects and treatment options. It regularly appears atop the list of the best cancer hospitals in the United States.
In our society we tend to try to live with freedom without restriction and hope that medicine will develop a pill or an inoculation or a procedure to take care of problems. That's not only not intelligent but it's also expensive.
But Mendelsohn believes there is much more to be done — and, at 74, he's forging ahead.
After he officially retires as president on Aug. 31, he will spend six months at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where he will study the latest in research technology. "It will give me a chance to reimmerse myself and also get me out of the way of the new head of M.D. Anderson so he can take over this wonderful organization and move it forward with his imprint," Mendelsohn said.
Mendelsohn will return to Anderson in March 2012 as co-director of the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy at Anderson, where he will oversee research in the promising area of genomics. He also will join the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University as a senior fellow in health and technology.
During an interview with CultureMap, Mendelsohn looked back at his tenure and the future of the fight against cancer. Here are some excerpts: