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Celebrating Science

A Dedication for all the Ages

May 2004

by Natalie Gutierrez

The celebration begins right now," exclaimed James Richard Huffines, UT System regent. And with those words, brightly colored confetti poured down upon the crowd of more than 400 community leaders, elected officials, university regents, and faculty and staff at the grand-opening celebration for the Childrenís Cancer Research Institute. Huffines, chairman of the regentsí Facilities Planning and Construction Committee, officially accepted the building on behalf of the board. It was a day to remember. The weather outside was dark and rainy, but inside smiles beamed from one side of the new 100,000-square-foot building to the other.

The audience applauded as a group of children, all wearing red T-shirts and holding hands, stood before them as a reminder of the focus of the research that will be conducted at the new institute. Oblivious to the importance of their role in the ceremony, the children flung confetti into the air and helped usher in a new era of cancer research for South Texas.

CCRI building
CCRI Facts

Location: 8403 Floyd Curl Drive

Director: Sharon B. Murphy, M.D.

Size: 100,000 square feet, 4 stories

Office space: Accommodates 18–20 scientific teams

Dr. von Eschenbach, Dr. Cigarroa, Loeffler
Dedicated to defeating a deadly disease

After the last guests exited and the last of the confetti had fallen to the floor, three individuals remained to discuss the road ahead. (L-R) National Cancer Institute Director Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., Health Science Center President Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., and former Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, the Honorable Tom Loeffler, have something in common. They are all cancer survivors.
Keynote speaker Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and a three-time cancer survivor, discussed the NCIís commitment to end suffering and death as a result of cancer by 2015. "That goal is realistic because of the progress of the past and the promise of the future, including the promise of institutions like the one you are dedicating today," he said.

The CCRI is supported by a $200 million endowment from the stateís tobacco settlement. As chair of the Senate on Health and Human Services, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Ph.D., played a key role in the distribution of the tobacco settlement.

Recalling the selection of the CCRIís founding director, Dr. Cigarroa said he promised "the Chamber and all our fine community leaders that we would recruit the best." He honored Sharon Murphy, M.D., the CCRIís first director, as the fulfillment of that goal. Dr. Murphy, a Harvard Medical School graduate, treated children with cancer for 30 years at St. Jude Childrenís Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and at Childrenís Memorial Hospital in Chicago. With the help of treatment advances, some of her patients beat cancer. "But I also saw a lot of suffering in those years, and Iíve seen many children for whom the treatments failed and they lost their struggle with cancer," she said. "And Iím going to tell you, I donít want to see that anymore."

"Cancer still remains the leading cause of death from disease among children," she added. "By assembling a top-notch team of researchers here who will be engaged in research relevant to childhood cancer, I can also tell you that we hope to impact the problem of cancer occurring at all ages among adults, because childhood cancer is really a model for cancer in general."

Dr. Cigarroa also recognized Tom and Nancy Loeffler and Barbie and Toby OíConnor, community leaders who are helping raise private support for the CCRI. "We could not operate this wonderful CCRI successfully if it were not for private philanthropy and advocacy," Dr. Cigarroa said.

President Cigarroa recognized the distinguished platform guests and outstanding members of the community. "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts," he said. "None of this could happen without your leadership."

And just like the confetti that fell that morning, the CCRI symbolizes the coming together of people from all walks of life, cancer survivors and non-cancer survivors – a diverse group on one mission – to conquer a killer called cancer.

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