Sylvester has earned the wings to make fighting cancer more innovative | Editorial

UM President Julio Frenk embraces U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a former University of Miami president, as Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott share the stage.
UM President Julio Frenk embraces U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a former University of Miami president, as Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott share the stage. cjuste@miamiherald.com

There was encouraging news Monday for South Floridians who receive that harshest of medical diagnoses: You have cancer.

Inevitably, the first question is: Will I survive?

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, which, thanks to stellar staff and technology already has helped thousands survive, is taking its abilities to the next level. Sylvester, part of the University of Miami Health System, was just designated by the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Only one other cancer center in the state can make that claim.

This is the most significant news in years in the local cancer fight.

The designation will bring Sylvester new resources and federally funded cancer research that will allow residents to get the most innovative care here at home. That’s invaluable when you’re fighting for your life.

UM President Julio Frenk and Sylvester Director Dr. Stephen Nimer, who announced the news jointly on Monday, deserve a tip of the hat for bringing this medical coup to our backyard.

Nimer, who worked for years to win the honor, told the Miami Herald, “The best has yet to come.” No doubt.

Here’s why: By designating it a cancer center, the NCI recognizes Sylvester’s focus on clinical research and science as among the best in the country.

Sylvester’s patients now will benefit from clinical trials that weren’t previously available in the region. South Florida patients in need of certain chemotherapy and surgery no longer have to travel hundreds of miles to Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center — which NCI designated a comprehensive cancer center in 2001 — to get cutting-edge treatment.

As the Herald reported, the designation makes Sylvester eligible to access cancer treatments, drugs and grants that are only available to NCI-designated centers. The NCI Cancer Centers Program was created under the National Cancer Act of 1971 to promote cancer research and support high-performing cancer centers.

Sylvester can combine strong research and funding to give patients even more personal, targeted treatment, Nimer said, and the designation will also help UHealth attract graduate students, researchers and specialists.

Sylvester’s designation was more than six years in the making — and was a dream of Nimer’s. A team at Sylvester had to write a grueling 1,300-page single-spaced application and prepare for NCI representatives to visit the center in Miami’s medical complex.

Every NCI-designated center must reapply every five years. “Designation is the first step,” Nimer told the Herald. “Then you focus on the work that you’re doing to bring about an end to cancer.”

We commend Sylvester for being a true reflection of the diversity Greater Miami brings to its doorstep. Its research wisely is inclusive of the African-American and Hispanic patients that it serves, which could go a long way to closing the racial and ethnic gaps in cancer detection, treatment and survival.

We applaud, too, the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the UHealth system. Just blocks away from Sylvester, Bascom Palmer this week was named the nation’s best in ophthalmology by U.S. News & World Report. In the publication’s 2019-2020 “Best Hospitals” rankings, Bascom Palmer is at the top among 12 adult ophthalmology hospitals nationwide — for the 18th time.

This community is so fortunate to have these two beacons of hope.