The Moon Cannot Be Reached Alone

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Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center made a big announcement last Friday when they unveiled their ambitious new Moonshots program. The program is named after President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 address at Rice University where he proposed an audacious, outsized goal – to send an American to the moon.

The Moonshots program has outlined an equally daunting challenge: The multi-part initiative will see the world-renowned cancer center spend $3 billion on finding at-risk populations for eight different cancer types, and then improving those patients’ outcomes and survival rates, quality of life and overall outcomes through new treatment methods and applied research.

At the Lance Armstrong Foundation, we certainly laud these efforts – as the headlines show, we are making progress in our efforts to understand, and treat cancer every day. It will take bold commitments and collaborative efforts to realize that vision, with more than 1.5 million new diagnoses and about 500,000 deaths each year.

Yet, we have to make sure that this research is fully leveraged. One of the well documented successes of the space program of the 60’s was that the nation truly came together and collaborated towards the same goal. As MD Anderson’s researchers redouble their efforts to combine clinical treatment with research on outcomes and survivorship, we would urge them to work outside of their own walls and collaborate with the hundreds of researchers around the country who are working towards the same goals.

This is one of the goals of the LIVESTRONG Survivorship Centers of Excellence, a network of seven research institutions across the country. Their collaboration over the last few years has produced several widely adopted breakthroughs in survivorship care – most notably, working with the Foundation and 150 experts, survivors, advocates, and health care professionals in establishing the essential elements of survivorship care.

More broadly, the idea of collaboration is at the heart of the way modern cancer research systems are being built. Interoperability – sending data back and forth across different systems – is now enabling researchers to amass treatment data from electronic medical records, molecular and genomic data from lab tests, patient-reported data from surveys, and other information such as prior research studies to create end-to-end profiles that are revolutionizing the way new treatments are developed, outcomes are measured, and care is improved.

It is our hope that the brilliant minds at MD Anderson, as well as at their counterpart institutions around the country, will soon be able to freely share information with each other through more open IT systems as well as organizational partnerships and collaborative efforts. One day we hope to build a cancer treatment system that can outsmart an individual’s disease and offer them more than just comfort or hope. This kind of effort will take more than cutting edge scientific advances, or IT overhauls – it will take persistence, grit, and a common spirit. But we believe it can be done.

Perhaps JFK said it best: “Man, in his quest for knowledge and progress cannot be deterred.”

One thought on “The Moon Cannot Be Reached Alone”

  1. ANewCLOUD says:

    43 years ago, on July 21, Neil Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the moon; 16 years ago tomorrow on LIVESTRONG day, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer; and 9 years ago this month, my own wife, Maureen, was diagnosed with breast cancer, while pregnant with our now 8.5 year old daughter, Katelyn.

    As MD Anderson Cancer Center announces its own Moon Shot in the fight against cancer, I know I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for their success. I’m sure that 28M other cancer survivors, their loved ones, their families and their friends are equally excited to hear similar words to Neil Armstrong’s: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” In the case of cancer, that “small step” will mean putting this disease behind us once and for all, “a truly giant leap.” However, May 25, 1961 is an even more important date than July 21, 1969 when Neil spoke these words from the moon.

    May 25, 1961, 51 years ago, is when President Kennedy announced the decision to go to the moon in front of a joint session of Congress. The work that followed this speech is the real legacy of the moon shot. As Naveen Rao makes clear in this blog post, “One of the well documented successes of the space program of the 60’s was that the nation truly came together and collaborated towards the same goal.”

    Cancer, cancer research, and all aspects of cancer support and community are indeed a collaborative effort. If you think about the Apollo program, there were a number of critical systems that had to work together for success. From the rockets that provided the propulsion to leave Earth’s gravity to the landing vehicle, capable of landing smoothly on the surface of the moon, to the reentry vehicle, that not only left the moon but did not burn up on reentry, to the astronauts themselves who prepared for all aspects of this journey, the moon shot was a testament to systemic thinking, rather than process-based linear approaches.

    CLOUD was born out of a belief that increasing the velocity of connections between both people and data will not only transform the Internet but help us in “Rethinking the Fight Against Cancer.” Without a systemic rethinking of the Internet, as well as the fight against cancer, we will not achieve “a cancer treatment system that can outsmart an individual’s disease and offer them more than just comfort or hope,” as Naveen articulates above. To achieve this system will not only require MD Anderson to “work outside their walls” but will require all of us to rethink the physical geography of healthcare. Technology, like the Moon Shot, doesn’t just let us do old things in new ways but allows us to do new things.

    We are honored to have LIVESTRONG in CLOUD’s Founding Circle as we seek to achieve this goal of doing new things with the Internet. On 2.19.11 TEDxAustin welcomed me to their stage to tell my family’s story with cancer, as well as share CLOUD’s goal of “Reweaving the Fabric of the Internet to Transform Humanity.” It is our sincere desire that this new digital fabric for the Internet will not only increase the velocity of connections amongst researchers and patients but also “free the data” in new ways, so that MD Anderson’s Moon Shot, LIVESTRONG’s 15 year effort being celebrated this month, and the many brilliant minds around the world working towards a cure can come together to beat cancer.

    When we do, “that one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” are words that will be spoken not just by one man on the moon but 28M people all around the world celebrating a monumental achievement in our history as a species.

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