• Dr. John Mendelsohn
    Photo by Shelby Hodge
  • M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital beforethe upper floors were added.
  • M.D. Anderson has more than 17,000 employees.

For nearly 15 years, Dr. John Mendelsohn has served as president of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, overseeing an institution that employs more than 17,000 and occupies 11.5 million square feet in the Texas Medical Center. During the last decade, Anderson has more than doubled its size and number of clinics and it's still growing.

Under Mendelsohn's tutelage, the center has been named the leading cancer hospital in the nation six out of the past eight years in U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Hospitals survey.

During a recent interview with CultureMap, Mendelsohn, only the third president to head M.D. Anderson since its founding in 1941, talked about new approaches to treating cancer, continued expansion in the Texas Medical Center and beyond, health care reform and the continuing search for a cure. Some excerpts:

On current research:

"The most exciting area of research going on here is a new way of assigning therapy for cancer care," Mendelsohn said. In place of testing new drugs in standardized trials with a large number of patients given the same drug, today different drugs are given to different groups of patients based on their individual cancer profiles.

"We have a whole new approach today because we know what causes cancer — abnormal genes within a cell."

With up-to-the-minute technology, cancer researchers can determine which genes within a cell are not working properly, study those genes that are abnormal and get the results back quickly. This allows doctors to "assign therapies based on what is wrong in the patient's tumor," Mendelsohn explained. The beauty of this advancement is that researchers and clinicians working together can coordinate all stages of drug discovery and development in order to design more effective and specific drugs with less toxicity.

This new approach of targeted therapy speeds the research process, involves fewer patients for a specific drug and accelerates information to the FDA. "You're going to hopefully get high response rates because you're selecting a sub-population. The good news is that you can get drugs out cheaper and faster."

"It's very exciting," Mendelsohn said. "It's a whole new way to treat cancer."

This high level of research, Mendelsohn added, is what maintains M.D. Anderson's ranking as the top cancer hospital in the country in the U.S. News & World Report annual hospital survey. "We're really good at taking science and taking it to the patient."

On national health care reform:

"The good news is that 30 million people who had no health insurance will now have access to insurance," Mendelsohn said. The looming questions, however, are the added expense and how it will be paid.

"We have to improve the value of care and not just the amount of care . . . You have to improve two things. One is outcome/results. Two is cost."

By targeting those two issues and allowing the public to decide where to get their medical care, Mendelsohn said, "I believe that will drive down costs and drive up results."

His concern is that "centralized planning can run into trouble" but he understands that "some regulation" is necessary. He would prefer to see competition in the marketplace drive the direction of universal health care with an informed public making choices.

On M.D. Anderson's broad reach:

M.D. Anderson currently has six satellite locations extending from The Woodlands to Sugar Land plus affiliations in Albuquerque and Istanbul, Turkey, with a third location set to launch in 2011 in Phoenix.

"We don't build anything. We don't invest our money in building new cancer centers," Mendelsohn explained. M.D. Anderson is asked or invited to open a department within an existing facility. Anderson might be asked to bring radiation therapy to a certain hospital or to bring oncology surgery to another. These invitations, he said, come in every week from different parts of the country and the world.

"M.D. Anderson provides the practices, trains the people ... establishes a quality of care comparable to what you would get if you went to M.D. Anderson."

This type of expansion, Mendelsohn explained, is mission driven. He points to M.D. Anderson's mission statement that calls for the elimination of cancer throughout the world through programs that integrate patient care, research and prevention and through broad-based education of doctors, researchers and the public.

On hospital expansion plans:

In the last decade, the cancer center has more than doubled in square footage and in number of clinics. Today, there are 500 beds with 320 additional beds in the pipeline and counting. "Locally we've grown. It's demand driven. It's hard to get a bed here," Mendelsohn said.

The 12-story Alkek patient tower was originally constructed with extra steel and concrete reinforcements to meet future needs of expansion and in 2007, the University of Texas Board of Regents approved plans for growth. "So we've just added eight floors on top of the hospital . . . a very interesting engineering fete," Mendesohn said. That expansion means an additional 160 beds by the end of the year with future growth in Alkek as demand warrants.

Expansion in both the hospital and clinics, Mendelsohn said, is done without state money. Funding comes from patient charges and philanthropy.

M.D. Anderson sees close to 100,000 patients a year but only a small percentage stay overnight in the hospital. "If you're in our hospital, you're very sick," the cancer center president said. "You not only have cancer but your cancer has gotten complicated and you're quite ill."

On signs of hope:

Mendelsohn pointed to cancer survival statistics as a definite sign of hope. Today, two-thirds of all cancer patients live five years or longer, he said. Within fairly recent memory, that figure was only one-third, he said.

"M.D. Anderson is a place of hope and of caring and not just treating the cancer but caring for the cancer patient," he said. The philosophy of everyone working at M.D. Anderson from the top down, according Mendelsohn, is "I am here to serve the patient."

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Top things to do this weekend in Houston: J.J. Watt comes home, food fests, and more

weekend event planner

Now that Houston is recovering from Beyoncé's big homecoming, we can settle into local entertainment. Look for some cool concerts from OGs Guns N’ Roses, moody tunes from Japanese artist Joji, and local future stars at HSPVA.

Or, feast on two food fests: Chefs for Farmers and the new Chopd & Stewd, which celebrates the West African diaspora and its robust culture and food. Later raise a stein when CityCentre turns into a biergarten.

Enjoy; here are your best bets for the weekend.

Thursday, September 28

Avondale House presents Bingo Bash

Avondale House presents the 4th Annual Bingo Bash, with emcees Briana Conner and Adam Winkler of ABC13. All guests have the chance to win prizes throughout the evening, along with an opportunity to bid on and win auction items. Sponsors will choose their own table themes and dress according to the theme for a chance to win the Best Dressed Table competition. Proceeds will benefit the Avondale House’s four program areas: the day school, adult day program, residential program and supported employment services. 5:30 pm.

Guns N’ Roses in concert

We don’t know about you, but we’re glad Guns N’ Roses are currently on tour with at least some of the original members. That Chinese Democracy-era Guns N’ Roses, when frontman Axl Rose was backed up by some other musicians (including a guy named Buckethead, who wore a KFC bucket on his head), was ridiculous. Rose obviously realized this, which explains why he mended fences with guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan and are now on the road, taking us back to those Appetite for Destruction glory days. 6 pm.

Friends of River Oaks Theatre presents Metropolis

Friends of River Oaks Theatre will host a special screening consisting of new short films made by inspired artists, followed by Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking science fiction epic, accompanied by an original live score by Omar Vincent Al-Bochi. An open call was made for artists to create and submit short films inspired by and using elements from Metropolis, which will be screened at this event. There will be an audience award given to the top film choice on the night of the event. 7:30 pm.

Friday, September 29

The Menil Collection presents "Chryssa & New York" opening day

"Chryssa & New York," the first major survey of artwork by Chryssa in the United States since 1982, is co-organized by the Menil and Dia Art Foundation. The exhibition explores the work of the Greek-born artist, one of the first to incorporate neon into her practice. Her pivotal use of the medium, along with found elements of commercial signage and text, bridged ideas from the pop, conceptual, and minimalist movements. Through Sunday, March 10. 11 am.

Asia Society Texas Center presents Richie Goods and Chien Chien Lu: “Connected”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, jazz/funk bassist Richie Goods and vibraphonist, percussionist, and composer Chien Chien Lu’s conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-Asian violence inspired them to collaborate on a project to unify people and invoke imagery of love and peace, resulting in the musical arrangements “The Path” (September 2020), “We Three Kings” (November 2020), and “Rain” (December 2021). They will perform selections from Connected, their collaborative jazz album. 7 pm.

Teatrx presents La Vida Es Cortos/Life Is Shorts Festival

Teatrx's annual La Vida Es Cortos festival encapsulates Hispanic Heritage Month by exploring short stories through live theatre and cinema. The festival will showcase a diverse lineup of short films by independent filmmakers from around the U.S. and Latin America. This year, the fest will also provide programming for young audiences by adding La Vida Es Cortitos, two morning performances dedicated to showcasing short plays and films for young audiences ages 5 and up. 7:30 pm (10:30 am, 2:30 & 7:30 pm Saturday; 10:30 am & 2:30 pm Sunday).

Joji in concert

It’s hard to believe that the same guy who was once known as YouTube grossout king Filthy Frank is now one of the most prolific singer-songwriters out there, dropping dark, lo-fi tunes that are essential for any sad-boy playlist. George Kusunoki MIller, who’s better known these days as Japanese music star Joji, has had albums that have topped the Billboard R&B, alternative, and rock albums charts. So, you can expect a very multicultural collection of moody young people when he performs at Toyota Center this weekend. 8 pm.

Saturday, September 30

Chopd & Stewd ‘23

Home to the largest Nigerian and West African population in the U.S., Houston is hosting Chopd & Stewd, the first-of-its-kind culinary festival celebrating the West African diaspora. Houstonians and visitors are welcome to a day of cultural immersion and education, engaging dialogue, gourmet dining, vibrant music, wellness programs and more. This fest pays homage to the far-reaching influences of the West African diaspora, enabling all to retrace their ancestral connections through a day-long series of immersive events and experiences. 9 am.

PXG Houston presents Community Golf Competition

Get ready for the ultimate community golf challenge. Join PXG Houston to watch the U.S. Team take on Europe in Rome and test your skills against fellow U.S. Team fans in a "closest-to-the-pin" competition. Utilizing state-of-the-art Trackman technology, PXG will choose a special hole from the prestigious Marco Simone Golf & Country Club course in Rome, Italy, which is hosting this year's competition. Participants will feel the thrill of playing on the same course as team captain and PXG golfer Zach Johnson. 10 am.

Chefs For Farmers

Chefs For Farmers, Texas’s premier food and wine festival, returns to Houston, offering an extra day to experience the immersive culinary journey. Held both Saturday and Sunday, this all-inclusive tasting event features Houston’s top chefs and culinary personalities serving up curated, locally sourced dishes in their effort to promote and showcase family farms throughout Texas. From immersive activations and live entertainment to wines from the top vineyards and craft cocktails, Chefs For Farmers has something for everyone to experience. 1 pm.

The Manhattan Dolls in concert

Step into the golden age of music as the 1940 Air Terminal Museum celebrates the timeless melodies of the 1930s and 1940s in this remarkable fundraising event. The Manhattan Dolls, a dynamic vocal trio, will take you on a sentimental journey through the iconic music of the era, providing a delightful blend of beautiful ballads and toe-tapping tunes that will transport you back in time. This concert serves as a celebration of the 83rd anniversary of the historic, art deco terminal building that holds Houston’s rich aviation history. 2 and 6 pm.

“Flutter: The Monarch Butterfly Project” at The Houston Botanic Garden

This collab between The Houston Botanic Garden and Open Dance Project celebrates monarch butterflies and their nearly 3,000-mile southern migration, which passes through Texas each fall. Check out three butterfly installations by local sculptor Meredith Tucker and a series of three half-hour, immersive contemporary dance performances from Open Dance Project. The dance performanace also features interactive costumes by Houston-based artist Natasha Bowdin and an accompanying soundscape by sound artist Lynn Lane, director of Transitory Sound and Movement Collective. Saturday and Sunday, 4-7 pm. $10-$15.

Houston Dynamo FC's Hispanic Heritage Night

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Night and kick it with Houston Dynamo FC when they face off against FC Dallas. Worth the price of admission alone, the first 5,000 fans receive a Luchador mask. Head to Noche Latina Street Fest for the 2023 Cascarita Own Your Block tournament Final. Catch eight Houston teams battle for the ultimate trophy while enjoying the Hustle Town Supporters' annual tailgate party and street soccer. 7:30 pm.

Sunday, October 1


The second annual CITYCENTRE Biergarten will be a blend of beer, camaraderie, and football. Every Sunday in October, guests can enjoy savory bites, cold brewskis, or non-alcoholic drinks in the Plaza by placing to-go orders from CITYCENTRE establishments, including Daily Gather, Bella Green, Yi Peng, Yard House, and more. Guests can also stop by The Moran CITYCENTRE tent in the plaza where they can indulge in a curated assortment of Oktoberfest beer and curated wine selections. 11 am.

J.J. Watt's Ring of Honor ceremony: Houston Texans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Houston Texans legend J.J. Watt will be the third team member inducted into the Texas' prestigious Ring of Honor. Watt will be on hand doing media appearances and more before kickoff at noon, where he'll serve as Texans Coin Toss Captain — opposite his brother T.J. Watt, the Steelers Coin Toss Captain. Watt will be formally inducted into the Ring of Honor with his family, the McNairs, Andre Johnson, and nearly 90 Texans Legends in attendance for the Legends Homecoming at halftime. Fans can expect free Watt swag, special Watt merch at the team store, and a free Watt pin when they spend $75 or more. Noon (arrive early).

HSPVA Friends presents Kinder HSPVA's MusicFest

Kinder HSPVA's MusicFest has something for music lovers of all ages. Kinder HSPVA's musicians transform the school's downtown block with performances, concerts, recitals, and jam sessions all over campus. Every HSPVA music ensemble will perform, featuring more than 350 performers in over 30 events. There will also be food trucks, including fan-favorite Mr. Sizzles, a pop-up shop by Little Kitchen HTX, frozen treats from Unicorn Snow Cones, and a music scavenger hunt for kids. 12:30 pm.

Houston Grand Opera presents Dance Masterclass & Conversation with Urban Bush Women

Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet will host a special afternoon of dance in honor of the HGO world premiere of Intelligence, featuring members of Urban Bush Women, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s revolutionary modern dance company. An advanced dance masterclass will be led by Zollar - Intelligence co-creator and director/choreographer, as well as MacArthur Foundation and Gish Prize awardee — while another masterclass will be led by Intelligence associate choreographer Vincent Thomas. 1 pm.

Where to eat in Houston right now: 9 best new restaurants proving our pizza town cred

where to eat right now

By any standard, pizza is having a moment in Houston. Not that pizza ever goes out of style, but when a wave of new pizzerias open — some led by the city’s top chefs — the time has come for a closer look.

Notably, we found options in a range of styles ranging from classic New York, to on-trend Detroit, a grilled pizza that may be unique to its restaurant. Anyone who thinks Houston isn’t a pizza town simply hasn’t eaten enough slices here.

While this list focuses exclusively on restaurants and bars that have opened in the last year or so, it is not meant to disrespect those tried-and-true places Houstonians have been patronizing for years. Fans of places like Star, Brothers, and Romano’s can save their emails. We like them, too, but they aren’t a fit for this roundup.

As always, Where to Eat columns are based on actual visits to the included restaurants (sometimes more than once) and are ordered by what we’d go to first. They all have something to offer, even if a visit requires a jaunt down the Westpark Tollway.

ElRo Pizza & Crudo
Chef Terrence Gallivan has made his return to the dining scene with this intimate restaurant on the border of Montrose and Midtown. With their high crown and creative toppings, ElRo’s personal-sized, Italian-style pizzas recall the pies Gallivan served at The Pass & Provisions. Highlights include the mushroom pie with smoked maitakes and mortadella with pistachio pesto. Round out the meal with a crudo or two — the spicy tuna on toast is a particular favorite. An affordable wine list and creative cocktails (all named after Bruce Springsteen songs) complete the experience.

ElRo restaurant pizza
Photo by Julie Soefer
ElRo serves a variety of pizzas.

Nonno’s Family Pizza Tavern
Nobie’s owners Sara and Martin Stayer channel Gen X nostalgia at this pizzeria that’s located next to The Toasted Coconut, their tiki-inspired restaurant and bar. Nonno’s serves the Midwest tavern-style pies that Sara grew up eating in Chicago; the thin, crispy pies are cut into squares — known as a party cut — to make them easier to share. Appetizers like chicken wings and mozzarella sticks complete the classic pizzeria experience.

Nonno’s takes the “family” part of its name seriously. A recent visit found at least half the tables occupied by families with children, many of whom entertained themselves at the restaurant’s arcade that features pinball machines and vintage video games.

Pastore Italian Kitchen
This restaurant's menu may describe its round, dough-based items as “flatbreads,” but we know a pizza when we see one. Available with traditional toppings like margherita, an East Coast-style clam pie, or seasonal ingredients like fig with lemon ricotta, Pastore's wood-fired pizzas blend Italian flavors with a slice that’s sturdy enough to be eaten by hand. The restaurant’s new brunch service offers a breakfast pizza topped with pancetta, poached eggs, hashbrowns, and more, which makes it the perfect hangover cure — especially when paired with some hair of the dog from the cocktail program overseen by former CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bartender of the Year winner Sarah Troxell.

Gold Tooth Tony’s
Chef Anthony Calleo has been serving Detroit-style pizzas at Rudyard’s for awhile now, but his new restaurant in the Heights dives in more deeply with a greater selection of pies and a more diverse set of toppings. The square-shaped, deep dish pizzas feature a crispy edge and a pleasant chew. Calleo channels his Pi Pizza days with selections like the Only5 (venison sausage, port wine cherries) and the Grizz (chicken, bacon, ranch, charred pineapple, grizzly sauce). New to the Gold Tooth Tony’s menu are selections such as the Hunger Force (meatballs, whipped ricotta) and the Sebastian’s Big Idea — a spam musubi-inspired pie with toasted pineapple and furikake.

Betelgeuse Betelgeuse
The self-described “bar with good pizza” recently added a Montrose location to its roster. Having access to a full kitchen instead of a food truck allows Betelgeuse to serve both 10 and 14-inch versions of its signature “ironclad pizzas,” named for the round, cast iron pans that give the pies a crispy crust. Compelling vegetarian pies — think the Three Sauce (pizza sauce, pesto, and vodka sauce) or the Fresh de Frays (ricotta, strawberries, chevre, basil) — might make even the most devoted carnivore skip the pepperoni. An extensive cocktail selection and fun bar snacks round out the menu.

Cup N’ Char Buffalo Pizza Cafe
This favorite of the Katy/Fort Bend Foodies Facebook group serves a Buffalo-style deep dish that’s similar to Detroit-style. The thick, chewy crust provides a sturdy platform for robust toppings like chicken fingers, a classic Hawaiian, and the Italian Mob (pepperoni, sausage, onion, and banana peppers). Even better, the convenient “half medium” size makes for a hearty single serving. Of course, Cup N’ Char’s Buffalo roots mean their chicken wings are first-rate — crispy, meaty, and available in a range of toppings, including the must-order Italian (garlic-parmesan) that can also be tossed in spicy Buffalo sauce.

Coastline Artisan Pizzeria
Newly opened in First Ward by childhood friends Armando Dimeo and Jordan Kone, Coastline serves two styles of pizza — a grilled pizza Dimeo first developed while working for his family’s restaurant in the Hill Country and a classic Neapolitan that’s baked in a wood-burning oven. The grilled pizza has an oblong shape and a crispy crust that supports more elaborate toppings like The O.G. (mozzarella, Italian sausage, ricotta, habanero honey, basil, and tomato sauce). Since the wood-burning oven takes three hours to reach a full 900 degrees, the Neapolitan pies are only available at dinner.

Formerly known as How to Survive on Land and Sea, this casual bar has rebranded itself as a low-key gathering spot for beer, wine, cocktails, and pizza. The classic New York-style pies utilize a recipe developed by Angelo Emiliani, the chef who burst into Houston’s collective restaurant consciousness with his Angie’s Pizzas pop-up. Sold either by-the-slice or as whole pies, the pizzas have a pleasantly chewy crust that’s easy to fold. Even better, slices are free with the purchase of a cocktail on Monday nights.

Home Slice Pizza
This Austin-based pizzeria debuted in Midtown last December with its classic New York-style pizzas and Sicilian, “grandma-style” pies. Sold as whole pies or slices, Home Slice pizzas have a toothsome, foldable crust that serves as the basis for everything from a classic pepperoni and mushroom to a white clam pizza with garlic and oregano that wouldn’t be out of place in New Haven, CT. Very credible meatballs subs and Italian-style hoagie (ask for light mayo) complete the East Coast experience. Once the weather cools off, the expansive patio will be a pleasant place to linger over selections from the well-chosen beverage list.

Houston Hot Girl Megan Thee Stallion seizes the awkward with mental health campaign

hot take

We all know Megan Thee Stallion is the baddest you-know-what of them all. She can share the stage with a fellow Houston queen (and still get choked up about it), make an ex-porn star quote her lyrics on social media, and even play a cartoon version of herself on a Netflix show.

But America’s favorite Hot Girl Coach also wants you and your friends to take care of each other mentally.

She recently joined the Seize the Awkward campaign to encourage young adults to reach out to their “strong” friends in a new PSA. In the video, Megan gets real about the pressures to be strong and the importance of peer-to-peer support. “No matter who you are,” she says in the video, “being vulnerable is what makes us whole.”

Seize the Awkward is a national campaign (first launched in 2018) that encourages young adults to start the conversation with friends about mental health. The campaign was developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation in collaboration with the Ad Council.

With 76 percent of young adults turning to a peer for support in a time of crisis, how can more young adults join Megan and Seize the Awkward to get the conversation started?.

As Megan says in the PSA, you can visit SeizeTheAwkward.org and Megan’s website BadBitchesHaveBadDaysToo.com for more resources to check in on a friend. You can also follow @SeizeTheAwkward on Instagram.