Marilyn Triplett, left, a multiple myeloma patient, talks to Dr. Stephanie Elkins, professor of hematology and oncology and head of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the CCRI.
Marilyn Triplett, left, a multiple myeloma patient, talks to Dr. Stephanie Elkins, professor of hematology and oncology and head of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the UMMC CCRI.
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UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute boasts new name, strong goals

Published on Monday, April 22, 2019

By: Cynthia Wall

The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Cancer Institute is changing its name to better reflect its missions.

The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees on April 18 approved the request to rename the entity the UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute.


“Historically, the CCRI has focused on three missions: patient care, research and education,” said Dr. John Ruckdeschel, CCRI director.

“This new name reflects the vital integration of all three of our missions rather than the intermittent focus on one or the other of them. You cannot do great patient care without great research and to bring the advances in research and patient care to all Mississippians you need to train the physicians, nurses, pharmacists and social workers who deliver that,” he said.

Historically, the CCRI started as a tumor treatment clinic, with a strong clinical and clinical trials effort focus but little interaction between physicians and basic researchers and even less interaction between cancer and other services at UMMC.

Dr. Nita Maihle, CCRI associate director for reseach, checks on work in her lab.
Dr. Nita Maihle, associate director for research at the UMMC CCRI, works in her lab.

Today, the CCRI offers adult cancer care through 10 interdisciplinary teams of doctors from different specialties, who provide consistent, coordinated care for cancer patients. It also conducts basic, translational and population research through three programs that include research scientists from UMMC, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University.

“We expect that this coming together of all of the elements of a true cancer center will allow us to approach National Cancer Institute designation over the next several years,” Ruckdeschel said.

CCRI members will continue to help train future cancer physicians, nurses, allied medical staff and researchers through multiple programs. Even today the majority of cancer physicians in Mississippi trained at UMMC.

Since he became director in January 2017, Ruckdeschel has worked to:

  • Fully implement interdisciplinary cancer care. For example, the CCRI’s care teams concentrate on one type of cancer, head and neck for example, so can focus their attention on the latest effective diagnostic testing, therapy and follow up care for those patients. Each team includes surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurses and others who gather to discuss new patients and the best treatments for them.

Teams work to provide patients with one-day access to all their team members so they do not have to make multiple appointments and return multiple times.

  • Coordinate research programs as the CCRI prepares to seek National Cancer Institute designation. With three programs, research is more focused and provides a foundation for researchers with similar research interests to work together to acquire grants and develop projects that will most help Mississippi.
  • Strengthen cancer care and cancer research programs to attract the best physicians and researchers to CCRI programs and fellowships.

Dr. Gina Jefferson, who heads the CCRI Head and Neck Interdisciplinary Cancer Program, adds that uniting the focus of patient care and research likely will improve cancer survival.

“It means a lot to patients to know they’re getting care at an institution where top quality research to improve outcomes is happening,” she said.  

That care extends to clinical trials, a way to test new therapies on a cancer or monitor how to best prevent or detect cancer.