When the trustee of a large charitable trust in Florida sought a researcher to lead an international think tank to drive the field of bladder cancer care and research, he found Dr. John Taylor, urologic surgeon at UConn Health.
Now, the Leo and Anne Albert Institute for Bladder Cancer Care and Research is up and running, with Taylor as its founder, president, and director.
“Bladder cancer is an orphan disease, which means it’s generally underrecognized and underfunded,” Taylor says. “This is one of the few standalone institutes focusing on an orphan disease.”
Support from the Leo and Anne Albert Charitable Trust enables the institute to bring together thought leaders in bladder cancer from across the world. “From that,” Taylor says, “we can generate translational and clinical projects to improve or standardize care for bladder cancer patients, and establish best practices in care while we work to find cures.”
The institute’s mission includes:
- Producing research that critically assesses aspects of patient care and attempts to develop more standardized and scientifically sound treatment pathways.
- Offering seed funding for collaborative research projects that are developed through the symposium. This year funding was awarded to a team of researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, and Penn State University.
- Providing summer fellowships for medical students in Taylor’s lab to develop the next generation of clinician scientists who will focus on bladder cancer.
- Holding an annual symposium to assemble some of the world’s brightest minds in bladder cancer to create scientific collaborations and strengthen existing ones. A manuscript titled “Consensus Statement on the Best Practice Management with Intravesical Immunotherapy with BCG for Bladder Cancer,” with Taylor as senior author, has been accepted for publication in the prestigious journal Nature Reviews Urology.
In addition to funding the institute, the trust also supports Taylor’s lab research at UConn Health.
Anne Albert lost her personal battle with bladder cancer. It was her husband’s dying wish to set up a trust for the purpose of “helping people.”
“What I’ve done with that rather broad mission is, look to the illnesses that caused their deaths,” says trustee Gene Pranzo, who was the Alberts’ lawyer. “I’m trying to guide [the trust] in a way that honors their names and their lives. They were very fine people, very generous, giving people who came from modest backgrounds.”
The Florida couple had no previous ties to UConn.
“The American Cancer Society gave me a list of researchers who were working on bladder cancer, maybe nine or 10 people,” Pranzo says. “I studied their backgrounds, their publications, their positions, what they were doing in the field. Everything about Dr. Taylor was impressive. He has a very strong CV.”
The institute’s board of directors includes Dr. Jessica Clement, UConn Health medical oncologist; Anne Diamond, chief executive of UConn Health’s John Dempsey Hospital; and Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, American Cancer Society past president and former director of UConn Health’s Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center. Massachusetts health law attorney Jackie Canyon serves as the board’s secretary.
“This donor could have chosen anyone in the country, and he chose John Taylor,” Diamond says. “This distinction speaks volumes about Dr. Taylor’s reputation nationally and even internationally, as well as the caliber of care and research here at UConn Health.”
Also serving on the institute’s scientific advisory council is Dr. Ashish Kamat, professor, surgeon, and urologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Kamat, along with Dr. Michael O’Donnell, professor of urology at University of Iowa Health Care, and Dr. Donald Lamm, who is in private practice in Phoenix, are among the world-renowned bladder cancer experts who attended the institute’s inaugural symposium, held in Hartford last September.