Dell Medical School creates Department of Oncology

Jenan Taha

Different areas of cancer research and treatment in the Dell Medical School have been brought together under the new Department of Oncology.

The department, which opened in the Health Discovery Building in mid-August, is headed by Gail Eckhardt, associate dean of cancer programs and director of LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes.

“The department allows us to better operationalize, and it gives us more of a construct to really bring people all together,” Eckhardt said. “It really allows us to better integrate the patient care component as well as research. These are things that have already been happening but weren’t integrating with one another.”

Eckhardt said a lot of students and researchers, both on campus and in Austin, have been waiting for the creation of an exclusive oncology department.  

“There are not only medical students but also students on campus that are really interested in cancer research,” Eckhardt said. “We can really start to think about programs to expose them to not only lab research but also clinical research as well as more community and population-based research.”

Carla Van Den Berg, co-director of the Developmental Therapeutics Laboratory within the Dell Oncology Department, said the department allows the different cancer research labs to work more efficiently and closely together.

“We tried to unite, we had small groups that were working together, but it was very difficult,” Van Den Berg said. “We didn’t have a common mission. (The department) allows us to communicate better with each other.”

The oncology department will also help organize things like oncology budgeting, management and programs, Van Den Berg said.

“We have more independence to make decisions that directly affect our progress, so we can do things in a more timely fashion,” Van Den Berg said.

Second-year medical student Marisa Simon knew she wanted to be involved in oncology since she started at Dell and has been in contact with Eckhardt about oncology opportunities.

“I think I was the only one in the first class who was remotely interested in pursuing oncology from the get-go,” Simon said. “I just kept asking, ‘Is there going to be a cancer department?’”

Simon said because cancer is the leading cause of death in Austin, it was essential for oncology at Dell to expand.

“It’s extremely valuable,” Simon said. “It’s going to bring in a whole lot of researchers and help a lot of the cancer patients in Austin.”