One of the first people to feel the impact of a massive renovation of the Georgia Cancer Center at Augusta University is the director.
“I’ve been displaced,” Dr. Samir N. Khleif said Monday in a temporary suite of offices down the hall from his former office.
Temporary might not be the best description – it is expected to last for “21 months-plus,” he said.
The office and a conference room below are among the first to be demolished as part of a 72,000-square-foot renovation that will extend out five floors of the M. Bert Storey Cancer Research Building up Laney-Walker Boulevard toward 15th Street.
Another three-story piece will connect the research building over Laney-Walker to the cancer clinic. But Khleif sees it as all part of one effort “where the clinical and the research operation are together, linked and complete,” he said.
The five-story addition will allow an additional 14 to 16 research labs, which will allow the center to hire that many more investigators and their teams, Khleif said. It is part of the eight-year strategic plan the center put together almost three years ago to help it achieve designation as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center, of which there are 62 in the U.S., including one each in Georgia and South Carolina.
The three-story addition between the clinic and the research building will truly be “a connection,” Khleif said.
“It’s going to be offices and interaction space,” he said. “It’s going to hold and host all of the clinicians and basic scientists in one place with interactive conference rooms and interactive spaces. It will make it much easier for our researchers and clinicians to talk about the needs of cancer patients and what kind of ideas can we develop from the science or the lab to the clinic and vice versa.”
Having those interactions is important to develop translational medicine that takes breakthroughs and observations from labs or animal models and makes them into potential therapies, Khleif said.
“When you have everybody here, doing work together, and all of them under one umbrella, which is very important, it makes it way easier to interact,” he said.
Another piece of achieving NCI designation is community outreach and impact, which the center is working toward with its Cancer Community Awareness & Access Research Education effort. The program has targeted 12 communities in Augusta for outreach and on Saturday will convene a community conference for workers to talk about those efforts, Khleif said.
There are longstanding and marked disparities for minorities, particularly for blacks, in cancer deaths and worse outcomes.
“It’s everything,” Khleif said. “It’s education, awareness, and then trying to make cultural modifications in the understanding of the disease.”
In particular, there is a need to understand the importance of early detection and prevention, he said.
“And as importantly, how to navigate the system to be able to actually get those prevention and early detection services,” Khleif said.
The current effort targets 12 communities but if it can secure more funding, the hope is to expand that to 24 and 36 and reach out perhaps beyond the Augusta area, Khleif said. That expansion is also part of the plan, he said.
“The physical building will expand our capability to conduct research and also expand our ability to conduct translational research,” Khleif said. “We’re bringing all of the clinicians and basic scientists together. We’re not only expanding here, we are expanding toward the community.”