Biden brings cancer discussion from White House

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Vice President Joe Biden participates in a panel at Duke University. This was a part of the cancer moonshot initiative supported by the President. 

Biden toured cancer research labs on Duke’s campus and held a roundtable discussion to promote the White House’s new cancer “Moonshot” initiative, which President Barack Obama announced in his 2016 State of the Union address.

“Almost everyone in the world has a family member who has had a brush with, or a loss, as a consequence of cancer,” he said.

Biden’s son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015. The vice president has since assembled a task force with a goal to further research for a cure, which includes a $1 billion initiative from the White House.

“I believe that we need an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it,” Biden said.

There was discussion at the roundtable about how to best utilize new advances in technology, to share research data, to push clinical trials and to encourage patient involvement.

“Much more has to be done, but I believe we can make much faster progress — as an outsider looking in with a different perspective — if we see greater collaboration, greater sharing of information,” Biden said.

Stephanie Wheeler, an assistant professor at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and a speaker at the roundtable, said early diagnosis with existing strategies is key to the vice president’s goals.

“(These strategies) are being underutilized by the poorest people, the minority populations, the rural populations of the country,” Wheeler said.

She said UNC’s project, the Integrated Cancer Information and Surveillance System, links statewide data with information showing cancer hot spots and discrepancies in areas of the state.

Niklaus Steiner, director of UNC’s Center for Global Initiatives, shared the story of his 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, who died of germ cell cancer. Steiner and his wife have since founded the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation, which focuses on caring for adolescent and young adult cancer patients at UNC Hospitals.

Steiner told Biden there’s a gap in the care for this age group of patients, who often find the children’s wing too juvenile and the adult side too depressing — something teens shouldn’t have to deal with.

“You’re struggling with your identity, trying to maintain your dignity, trying to find out who you are,” Steiner said. “And all of that is stripped away from you, and you just become a patient in a hospital.”

Biden said while everyone, including himself, has had experience with life, death and tragedy, the potential of those working toward a cure could do should give people hope.

He said his goal for the initiative was to make a decade’s worth of advancements in research within the next five years, forging a path toward an eventual cure.

Biden acknowledged some might consider the government “a bureaucratic stumbling block.”

“I promise you, I will clear the way — I promise you,” he said.

state@dailytarheel.com

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