OC's only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center

As an academic leader, teacher and researcher, Richard A. Van Etten, MD, PhD, touches countless lives  – not just at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center as its director, but near and far.

Van Etten is a fellowship-trained hematologist and oncologist who specializes in the treatment of leukemia and other blood disorders. As director of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, he leads a team of more than 200 physicians, scientists and other health science professionals.

“The endowment affords me the flexibility to carry out multiple responsibilities, which in addition to directing the cancer center includes patient care, participation in clinical trials research, teaching medical students, residents and fellows, and running my National Cancer Institute-funded basic/translational research laboratory,” said Van Etten.

This past year saw the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center expand and enhance its role as the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center based in Orange County.

“Our mission is to alleviate the burden of cancer on the citizens of Orange County, including providing access to the latest cancer drugs and devices through early phase clinical trials, keeping expert cancer care close to home so that OC residents do not have to leave the county.” - Richard A. Van Etten, MD, PhD

The cancer center launched a hematopoietic stem cell transplant program to treat certain blood cancers, completing more than a dozen transplants since May 2020. Prior to UCI launching the bone marrow transplant program, patients had to leave Orange County in order to receive this life-saving therapy.

“I am always inspired by the resilience and optimism of our patients and their families, who have placed their trust in us,” said Van Etten. “This was perhaps most evident with the launch of our bone marrow transplant program, where several patients who had been referred previously to Los Angeles centers for this procedure instead wanted to have their transplant at UCI, with the providers and staff that they had come to know.”

Other highlights from the year included the recruitment of 25 new cancer faculty, expanding and diversifying clinical trials and raising more than $650,000 to fund cancer research at UCI and CHOC Children’s through their annual Anti-Cancer Challenge event.

The year ahead brings further expansion and advances in diagnostics, treatment and rehabilitation programs to provide the best possible care for the cancer center’s patients and their families.

“We will leverage the stem cell transplant program together with a new cell manufacturing facility to increase our research and treatment in the field of adoptive cell therapy and immunotherapy,” said Van Etten. “Adoptive cell transfer immunotherapy is one of the most promising new treatments for people with hard-to-treat cancers.”

The cancer center's Community Outreach & Engagement Office is bringing state-of-the-art cancer prevention and screening to four Federally Qualified Health Centers in Orange County that predominantly serve minority populations, including UCI Health family health centers in Santa Ana and Anaheim. The cancer center is joining with fellow members of the UC Cancer Consortium — UCLA, UCSD, UCSF and UC Davis — to launch a precision cancer research effort with data sharing and a joint molecular tumor board.

Van Etten said they are also actively involved in UCI Health plans to build a world-class medical complex on the UCI campus, complete with an ambulatory cancer center and inpatient specialty hospital, that will bring exceptional care closer to the fast-growing communities of coastal and south Orange.