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U-M names first Schembechler professor in adrenal cancer

Endowed professorship named after wife of former U-M football coach, who died of rare cancer --added 9/7/05

Ann Arbor, MI. -- The name Schembechler is inextricably linked with University of Michigan football. But now, that name will make an impact on a different crowd.

On Wednesday, Sept. 7, the University of Michigan Medical School will formally install Gary D. Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., as the first Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer. Millie Schembechler, the wife of former U-M football head coach Bo Schembechler, died in 1992 of adrenal cancer, a very rare cancer that strikes about 200 Americans each year.

The Schembechler endowment at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only endowed professorship in adrenal cancer in the country. U-M is one of a handful of centers nationwide with a multidisciplinary clinic dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of adrenal cancer. The clinic will become part of the new Endocrine Oncology Program at U-M, which incorporates diagnosis, treatment and research of adrenal and thyroid cancer.

"Adrenal cancer is very rare and very deadly, with nearly no chance of survival after five years for those diagnosed with late-stage disease. This new program and the Schembechler professorship will allow us to conduct focused research on adrenal cancer while providing the highest quality care to all patients with endocrine tumors," says Hammer, who will also serve as director of the new Endocrine Oncology program at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"I am extremely proud and pleased that all of the hard work and dedication of numerous individuals has paid off in the result of the Millie Schembechler Professorship of Adrenal Cancer," says Bo Schembechler, who sponsored a fund-raising golf outing for eight years to create this endowment.

"My gratitude goes out to all of the individuals who shared a part in raising the funds, as well as the dedication and diligence of the University of Michigan Cancer Center, for bringing this amazing accomplishment to fruition. Our goal is to wipe out adrenal cancer. I feel confident that these dedicated individuals at the helm will accomplish that goal," Schembechler says.

U-M has a history of expertise in adrenal cancer. Jerome Conn, M.D., director of U-M's Metabolism Research Unit from 1943-1973, was the first to identify a type of adrenal tumor that's now known as Conn's syndrome.

Endocrinologist David Schteingart, M.D., and endocrine surgeon Norman Thompson, M.D., subsequently pioneered the medical and surgical treatments of adrenal tumors and organized U-M's first adrenal clinic, which has evolved over three decades into the current program. Schteingart and Thompson were involved in Millie Schembechler's treatment at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Now, Hammer's laboratory research looks at how adrenal tumors develop and become cancerous, and how certain genes and proteins contribute to the process. With U-M collaborators Thomas Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., and Paul Gauger, M.D., Hammer's lab is also investigating how gene profiles can be used to diagnose adrenal cancer or predict how well a patient will respond to treatment. They hope to develop new treatments, including targeted biological-based therapies designed to hone in directly on the cancer cells while sparing normal tissue.

"One of the strengths of our adrenal group here at Michigan is that we collectively examine the basic biology of adrenal growth, engage in translational studies and treat patients with a true multidisciplinary approach. Our goal is use the knowledge gained to develop new therapies that we can introduce into a clinical trial," Hammer says.

The two adrenal glands sit just above the kidney in the back and are responsible for making stress hormones and sex hormones. Tumors of the adrenal gland often make excess hormones. Depending on the type of hormone involved, this could lead to side effects such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, hair growth or sexual dysfunction. Other signs of adrenal cancer may include abdominal bloating or pain.

U-M's multidisciplinary adrenal cancer clinic will expand from twice per month to four times each month under the new Endocrine Oncology program. Typically, U-M oncologists see about 10 to 15 adrenal cancer patients per week.

For more information about the Endocrine Oncology program at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, visit the program's web site. Patients can call the Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125.

Written by Nicole Fawcett

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