DePinho: “Cancer is Going to Fall to the Axe of Science”

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From Left: IACCGH Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia, Ashok Garg, Joya Shukla, Dr. Ronald DePinho, Karen Francis, Swapan Dhairyawan, Atul Varadhachary, President Sanjay Ramabhadran, Shell VP Ken Coon. Photos: Bijay Dixit

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: In a riveting talk by Dr. Ronald DePinho, President, MD Anderson Cancer Center at the IACCGH Distinguished Lecture held on November 7, at the Hilton, members and guests listened in rapt attention to the tremendous strides made in research and the treatment of the “merciless experience” of cancer. The event was sponsored by Shell and Houston Business Journal.

IACCGH Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia welcomed the gathering and recalled the crucial role played by IACCGH in taking the first MD Anderson delegation to India 12 years ago and the resultant MOU with the Tata Memorial Cancer Center in Mumbai.

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Dr. Ronald DePinho, Shell VP Ken Coon, IACCGH President Sanjay Ramabhadran

IACCGH President Sanjay Ramabhadran outlined the Chamber’s mission as well as honoring the founding promise of being the voice of the Indo US business community in Houston since its inception 15 years ago. Promoting the economic interests of the Greater Houston region is at the core of what the organization does and he was happy to announce that IACCGH was leading two trade delegations to India with Judge Ed Emmett this December and Mayor Annise Parker in April, 2015 to tap “the tremendous investment opportunities in India.”

As President of the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. DePinho comes with an impressive array of credentials and awards for his groundbreaking work in the treatment of cancer. Introducing Dr. Ronald DePinho, IACCGH Board member Karen Francis stated that Dr. DePinho brought new vision and great energy to the institute and was also “setting the stage for MD Anderson to continue to be a world leader in cancer treatment.”

Describing MD Anderson as “the NASA for cancer care and a research powerhouse”, Dr. DePinho stated that MD Anderson was elevating the standards of care for cancer. By adopting a multidisciplinary care approach where a patient was seen not by “a doc.” but a team of doctors, the collective wisdom developed a personalized best possible regimen for every single patient. He reiterated MD Anderson’s mission which is to end the “great humanitarian crisis” – cancer, in the world.

Observing that this “was a game changing time in the history of science, medicine and technology” Dr. DePinho believed that the cracking of the genetic code in 1953 gave us the fundamental understanding of how life works and the basis for disease. As a result of these and other groundbreaking research, we have reached a point where we now have the ability to understand the disease, the aging process, the knowledge to manipulate the aging process and thus eliminate the disease.

A chilling fact, Dr. DePinho shared, is that one out of two runs the risk of cancer. While the primary causes of cancer are smoking, obesity and sun exposure, the good news is that 50% are easily preventable.

He also shared the profound impact of breakthroughs such as the “dream come true” HPV vaccine which will prevent certain cancers and extraordinary drugs for leukemia, melanoma, breast and ovarian cancer which are giving durable responses if not saving thousands of lives. He also believed that in the next ten years, a simple and cost effective blood test will allow the detection of cancer at an early stage.

An achievement, he was particularly proud to announce was the Texas legislation banning access to tanning beds for children under 18 as just 11 sessions of tanning increased the risk of melanoma decades later by a staggering 85%. He also urged the gathering to do “all the commonsense things” such as exercise, eat fruits, vegetables, stay away from processed foods and sugar, not smoke and manage stress – factors which could dramatically reduce the incidence of cancer.

Dr. DePinho concluded by stating that “many centuries from now, we’ll be known as the generation that understood life, put others before ourselves to make an impact not just in our families but families around the world.” He was also proud that MD Anderson was making cancer “history not only for Houstonians but for all of humanity.”

Shell’s VP of Human Resources, Ken Coon presented a plaque to Dr. DePinho, remarking that the brilliance and passion Dr. DePinho brings into a room is an inspiration for everyone.