WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today led 15 members of the Illinois delegation in sending a bipartisan letter to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in support of the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s (UICC) application to obtain an NCI designation, an accreditation given by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to elite U.S.-based medical and laboratory institutions to demonstrate leadership in addressing the nation's cancer burden through research and complex treatment.

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“We write in support of the application from the University of Illinois Cancer Center located in Chicago, Illinois, to obtain National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. Obtaining NCI designation is a key initiative for Illinois, both to help improve the health of residents as well as to boost research and economic development,” the lawmakers began their letter.

As the lawmakers note in their letter, Illinois has the sixth highest cancer mortality in the country while also being among the group of states with the largest socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and rural disparities in diagnosis, mortality, and outcomes. UICC is uniquely positioned to address cancer equity through outreach, practice, and science, given its primarily minority and low-income participant representation through tissue biorepositories, clinical trials, and public health studies focused on ensuring innovations in prevention, early detection, treatment, and cures for cancer have equitable effects and access.

“The University of Illinois Cancer Center has spent more than 30 years working to reduce and eliminate these cancer health disparities—including through its world-class hospital, recruiting some of the field's brightest researchers, and providing equitable patient care to some of the most vulnerable populations in Illinois,” the lawmakers wrote.

“With NCI designation, the University of Illinois Cancer Center would be even better positioned to develop novel cancer treatments; identify causes of disparities; test new treatments; and advance strategies to address the structural, social, and behavioral drivers of cancer disparities in communities, federally qualified health centers, and safety-net settings. As a public state university, the University of Illinois Cancer Center would fill an important niche in NCI’s current portfolio of designated centers,” the lawmakers continued their letter.

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Northwestern University and the University of Chicago are the two institutions in Illinois that have obtained NCI designation as Comprehensive Cancer Centers. Patients cared for by NCI-designated cancer centers have lower mortality rates. These cancer centers are at the forefront of developing, testing, and scaling cutting-edge, novel tools, therapies, and innovations for their communities and beyond. The lawmakers reiterated that providing UICC with this designation would help mitigate the radical disparities in health care outcomes for Illinoisans.

“NCI designation will help ensure Illinois patients can access advanced care and clinical trials close to home. It also will help provide high-quality cancer care to all citizens, regardless of ability to pay,” the lawmakers wrote.

“We believe in the innovative work that researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago and University of Illinois Cancer Center are doing to reduce the cancer burden in Illinois and urge you to give full and fair consideration to the University of Illinois Cancer Center for National Cancer Institute designation,” the lawmakers concluded.

Along with Durbin and Duckworth, Illinois delegation members who signed onto the letter were U.S. Representatives Mike Bost (R-IL-12), Nikki Budzinski (D-IL-13), Sean Casten (D-IL-06), Danny Davis (D-IL-07), Bill Foster (D-IL-11), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL-04), Robin Kelly (D-IL-02), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Darin LaHood (D-IL-16), Mike Quigley (D-IL-05), Delia Ramirez (D-IL-03), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Brad Schneider (D-IL-10), Eric Sorensen (D-IL-17), and Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14).

In addition to offering additional resources to cancer patients, NCI-designated cancer centers provide economic benefits for their communities, with the potential of over $1 billion in economic impact, by creating thousands of middle and high-wage jobs, recruiting world-class physicians and scientists, partnering with private corporations, and attracting philanthropic donations and with the ability to secure millions of dollars in additional funding for cancer research through exclusive partnerships with NIH.

NCI-designated cancer centers also benefit from additional funding and resources to optimize infrastructure for community outreach and engagement, including multilevel enhancements for cancer education of evidence-based information to communities; technical assistance for healthcare systems like federally qualified health centers and safety net facilities to enhance the quality of affordable, accessible primary and specialty cancer care; and training for community members and leaders to be embedded in science as partners and decision-makers to characterize and eliminate cancer disparities.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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