Dr. Levy leads effort for comprehensive cancer center status

by Elizabeth Kumru, UNMC public relations | February 28, 2018

Image with caption: Deborah Levy, Ph.D.

Deborah Levy, Ph.D.

UNMC's long-term goal of achieving the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center status is finally within reach now that a director for cancer science and prevention has been named.

Effective Feb. 1, Deborah Levy, Ph.D., chair of epidemiology, UNMC College of Public Health, was named director of the newly proposed Center for Cancer Prevention and Population Science (CCPPS).

This is a joint appointment between the College of Public Health and the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Dr. Levy will continue her role as chair of epidemiology.

"The CCPPS position will be a critical bridge between these organizations to improve cancer science and cancer prevention activities for Nebraskans and the many other communities we serve," said Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the College of Public Health.

Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, said the new proposed center will be an integral component for the FPBCC as it strives to achieve designation as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a step above UNMC's current status as an NCI-designated cancer center.

"We need to identify the leading cause of cancer death in Nebraska, look at risk factors and develop prevention programs in communities across the state to protect people and improve survivorship from cancer," Dr. Cowan said.

As of 2017, there are 49 comprehensive, 13 clinical and seven basic laboratory cancer centers. Almost all are associated with a university. Receiving the NCI-designation places cancer centers among the top four percent of approximately 1,500 cancer centers in the US.

The standards for comprehensive cancer centers are the most restrictive of the three. These facilities must demonstrate expertise in each of three areas: laboratory, clinical/behavioral and population-based research.

Dr. Levy had wanted to retire to Hawaii when Dr. Khan, her colleague at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, persuaded her to become chair of epidemiology 19 months ago.

"Now I'm in the thick of it," she said. "My first step will be to identify our strengths and interest areas. I plan to do a lot of listening. My process will be outcome driven," she said.

It will be a long process. CCPPS, which needs the approval of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, must obtain at least 10 fully-funded multidisciplinary National Institutes of Health RO1 grants that bridge cancer prevention and control with research and clinical care before the NCI designation is assigned.

At the same time, Dr. Levy oversees the launching of 13 new courses and two new degrees -- a Dr.PH in public health with a concentration in epidemiology and a master's in health systems informatics through UNMC and the University of Nebraska at Omaha's joint Biomedical Informatics Program.

"I like complex problems," she said. "They are good for my brain and they keep me out of trouble."

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carol swarts
March 01, 2018 at 9:50 AM

This appointment will be an important bridge in the goal of making Nebraska the healthiest state in the nation. I admire your agreement to continue working in ways to achieve that goal. Would love to be part of the process. Carol Swarts, MD 1959

Gretchen Glode' Berggren, M.D. (UN class of '58), M.Sc.Hyg.
February 28, 2018 at 4:21 PM

Congratulations to all on this step forward to combat cancer! So glad to have been a part of the University of Nebraska's leadership in epidemiology and global health, and now in the combat of cancer! Gretchen Glode' Berggren, M.D. (;'58) M.Sc.Hyg.(retired faculty, Harvard School of Public Health)

Keith Swarts
February 28, 2018 at 3:52 PM

Congrats to you Dr. Levy. You are a proven leader. One, who instead of asking why are we doing this..... rather responds why not. I have observed you walk the talk. Hawaii will wait. So will another trip to China! Keith Swarts

Dan Grice
February 28, 2018 at 9:47 AM

Congratulations on this important appointment, Dr. Levy! I agree wholeheartedly with your "complex problems" statement.