LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes announces inaugural director

Brittany Wagner

In a few months, S. Gail Eckhardt will be packing her bags in Colorado to head south and join UT to lead the new LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.

LIVESTRONG, an Austin-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by cancer, donated $50 million to the Dell Medical School in 2014 to create the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes. With construction recently completed, all the institutes lacked was a director.

Eckhardt was formerly the Head of the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Colorado at Denver but was recruited by Dean Johnston from UT’s Dell Medical School to lead the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes as its inaugural director beginning January 2017.

One of the strongest themes in the Cancer Institutes’ mission is the incorporation of academic research with the human component of cancer — the patient. 

LIVESTRONG President Greg Lee stressed the importance of remembering that for every cancer diagnosis, there is a person living with it daily.

“That is probably the central element of the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes because this is really the marriage of those two,” Lee said. 

“We can have someone who can focus on the disease and also have an organization like LIVESTRONG who is focused on the patient who has the disease, and kind of blending those together to ensure the best care for the patient.”

While many oncology students don’t have the opportunity to be hands-on with patients, Eckhardt finds that may be the most important experience, and plans to weave that into the new Institutes’ models.  

“One of the things I definitely want to see is that medical students would be integrated into not only models of patient-centered care and value-based care within cancer clinics, but also have them exposed to the research components and definitely have more patient exposure,” Eckhardt said. 

Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School, values the fact that the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes is an entity that can be built from scratch without having to adhere to preset guidelines on how to model a better kind of healthcare.

“We have an opportunity to really do this differently and in a way that demonstrates a new model, one that better aligns with society’s interests for cancer care,” Johnston said. “I hope that 20 years from now it’ll be apparent that we set that model in motion.”