Originally created 06/29/01

Painting plots cancer center

Those pushing a new cancer center for Augusta were able Thursday to present a clearer picture of their vision - a watercolor, in fact.

Members of the ad hoc Augusta Cancer Center of Excellence committee met to discuss plans to attract one of three top-tier cancer centers envisioned in Gov. Roy Barnes' $1 billion Georgia Cancer Coalition initiative. The proposed Augusta center would not only pull together local cancer efforts, but also appear to tie into efforts at the Medical College of Georgia to promote cancer research and biotechnology.

Along those lines, MCG President Daniel W. Rahn unveiled an artist's conception of a 90,000-square-foot research building.

The local effort seeks to attract 30 to 35 eminent cancer researchers, and those new scientists would need about 50,000 to 55,000 square feet of lab space, Dr. Rahn said, using the school's Institute of Molecular Medicine and Genetics as a model because it has a similar number of scientists. Adding in public areas, incubator areas for spinoff biotechnology companies and possible administrative offices, the building would need to be about 150,000 square feet, Dr. Rahn said. It would be located behind the Carl T. Sanders Research and Education Building and would face R.A. Dent Boulevard.

It would have to be located close to the core laboratory facilities at MCG, but what it would contain - whether it would serve as the administrative offices for the center or whether clinical trials of all area patients would be coordinated there - is subject to change, Dr. Rahn said. Even the design itself could change, he said.

"It doesn't have to look like this, but it could look like this," Dr. Rahn said.

The biggest challenge? It would cost about $38 million, half of which would need to be raised from private funds, Dr. Rahn said. Because it is not on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents list, it would take as long as seven years to build, which is way too long, said Regent J. Timothy Shelnut, the chairman of the ad hoc committee. If the community can raise the funds, then officials can look to other sources, possibly the state, to kick in the other half, Mr. Shelnut said.

"I know we've got to have our 50 percent upfront first," Mr. Shelnut said.

A research facility would be crucial to building up the research needed for the cancer initiative and to push forward care in Augusta, Dr. Rahn said.

"If we've got the facilities, we can recruit the scientists," Dr. Rahn said. "And if we can recruit the scientists, they can get the grants."

A group of physicians and hospital administrators has been meeting for the past few months and has talked about an unprecedented level of collaboration in cancer care. Dr. Rahn has proposed a committee with physicians and hospital administrators to figure out a way to collaborate and pay for joint services.

Now, "it's sitting down and deciding how we're going to do this," Dr. Rahn said. Both that committee and another one focusing on fund raising are expected to report back in September. Dr. Rahn also proposed hiring a consultant to advise the committees.

While Augusta officials have been anxious to get word from Mr. Barnes and the coalition on whether the community will receive one of the prized centers, it doesn't appear an announcement is forthcoming, Mr. Shelnut said.

"It looks like it's going to stay that way until October or November," Mr. Shelnut said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.


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