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Arkansas Legislators Donate Funds to Support Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute’s Quest for NCI Designation



Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View and Rep. Michelle Gray of Melbourne, backed by more than a dozen other members of the Republican Women’s Legislative Caucus, presented an oversized check for $2,021 to Michael J. Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor and director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at UAMS during a noon presentation Feb. 25 at the Arkansas State Capitol.

The caucus’ support, through their Dream Big for Arkansas Initiative, led to Senate Bill 151 passing unanimously in both the Arkansas Senate and House, with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signing it into law in March 2019. The bill established an account into which funds supporting National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designation can be deposited.

There are 71 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers in 36 states and the District of Columbia that form the foundation of NCI’s programs for studying and controlling cancer. None of those centers are located in Arkansas, with the closest being in Memphis (pediatrics only), Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Approximately 68 percent of the funds awarded by the National Cancer Institute for research and clinical trials goes to NCI-designated centers. The centers without such designation are left to compete for the other 32 percent, and many NCI community outreach and program grants are only offered to NCI-designated cancer centers.

“Cancer knows no boundaries,” said Irvin. “Two years ago, Rep. Michelle Gray and I passed an act which established a fund solely for the purpose of receiving and maintaining status of a National Cancer Institute Designated cancer institute.”

“But we know that it takes both public and private funding to achieve this worthy goal of NCI Designation,” Irvin said. “The Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at UAMS is committed to raising $30 million in private funds to support achieving status as a National Cancer Institute Designated center,” she said. “Many citizens have contributed to this endeavor, and today we are here to do our part.”This effort was followed by state lawmakers approving a combination of taxes that would raise $10.5 million annually for the effort.