Radiation Oncology Prof. Theodore Lawrence, the newly approved director of the University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, said he intends to expand the center’s focus on precision medicine.

“Our big strength here that I want to really build on and make us a national leader in is precision medicine,” Lawrence said. “Each treatment is customized to each patient’s — in the case of cancer — individual tumor. We now know so much more about cancer than we used to.”

At their meeting last Thursday, the University’s Board of Regents approved Lawrence’s appointment. He succeeds the center’s founder, Medical Oncology Prof. Max Wicha.

According to the American Cancer Society, a Comprehensive Cancer Center is required to take part in clinical trials, study cancer prevention and control in large groups of people, conduct basic laboratory research, offer information services and provide mental health and social support services. The University has one of only two Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Michigan, with only 41 centers running nationwide.

Lawrence said he and James Woolliscroft, dean of the University Medical School, aim for the Cancer Center to be considered one of the top five centers in the nation.

“I think a big challenge we’re starting to face is that we need to have a stronger statewide network,” Lawrence said. “I think that we haven’t been, as an oncology group, as engaged in the state as I would like to see us be.”

Lawrence completed both his undergraduate and medical degree at Cornell University and his research degree in cell biology at Rockefeller University. He completed his internal medicine residency at Stanford University, and then specialized in oncology at the National Cancer Institute.

Lawrence is also the Department of Radiation Oncology chair, and runs six community practices around the state.

The search process began over a year ago. Lawrence was named a final candidate in November 2014 after a committee considered a field of candidates. A University News press release from November 2013 said Wicha stepped down to pursue other career interests.

UMHS public affairs staff said neither Wooliscroft nor members of the search committee were available for an interview.

In the release, Woolliscroft said Lawrence’s proven leadership experience will serve him well in the role.

“Michigan has been the epicenter of many global advances in cancer research and care,” Woolliscroft said in the release. “As patients, families and the scientific community look to us for the next breakthroughs, we are fortunate to have the expertise of an established leader of Dr. Lawrence’s caliber to guide the Cancer Center into a very promising future.”

Lawrence said the center should also aim to increase engagement with the community.

“Probably 90 percent of cancer care can be delivered at home, if you have the expert people to do that,” Lawrence said. “I feel it’s our mission to work with people in the community, to keep the patients in their community who can be cared for in their community.”

Lawrence said, overall, he’s preparing to head a center that’s already on solid footing.

“It’s a very strong center with a lot of resources to start with, but I think there are things that we can build on that can make it a great center, and that’s my goal,” he said.

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