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"What we are going to do is prevent and cure cancer'

Dr. William S. Dalton returns to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute next month as director and chief executive officer because he says he could not possibly say no to his dream job.

He spent five years at Moffitt, then left seven months ago to be dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine. He and his wife, Karen, hadn't even bought a house when the Tampa cancer center tapped him to be boss. Now the 52-year-old father of three _ two are in college and one is a high school senior who will stay in Arizona to graduate _ is back.

A prominent cancer researcher, Dalton helped prove drugs called chemosensitizers can reverse drug resistance in patients. He and Moffitt's Dr. Richard Jove also identified the "switch" that turns on multiple myeloma at the molecular level.

We called the doctor in Arizona to get a preview of what's to come:

Q: So why did you really come back?

A: I consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Moffitt is the most rapidly growing cancer center in the world. It has an outstanding board of directors who are very clear about what they are supporting: They want to create an environment to prevent and cure cancer. I have no qualms about them . . . backing up what they say they want to do.

Q: What makes Moffitt, a relatively young cancer center, which this month was ranked 10th best in the country by U.S. News & World Report, so good?

A: It comes down to the people _ the faculty and staff are so dedicated, so passionate. I can remember being at the ceremonies when it got comprehensive cancer center status (the only one so designated in Florida by the National Cancer Institute) and I actually got a chill up my spine.

Q: Why did you go into medicine?

A: I was in research first. I got my Ph.D. in life sciences, in pharmacology and toxicology at Indiana University. But I wanted more hands-on. I wanted to bridge the lab with the clinic: translate science to actual patients. So I went back to medical school.

Q: What is the most exciting thing that ever happened to you in the lab?

A: Discovering the biology of myeloma: contributions that helped us understand what the cancer cell is. And the work we're dealing with now: The environment (in the body) that cancer cells grow in influences those cancer cells. It allows us to target myeloma more specifically, in different ways.

Q: Does anything give you the willies at the doctor's office?

A: I hate needles.

I had bone marrows done on myself for my own research. The cancers I studied were bone marrow cancers, so I used my own. That's a big shot! Other doctors had to do it. I closed my eyes.

Q: Why does everyone seem to have cancer or love someone who does?

A: I think it's more awareness now than anything else. In the '60s, grandma would get cancer and they wouldn't tell her. I think it's recognition of the disease and more treatments for it.

Q: What will be your favorite part of your new job?

A: Working with the faculty and staff in developing a team orientation to cancer. There are 114 different types of cancer. It's many different kinds of diseases. Your attack is going to be different. Devising a strategy to use (our) resources will be a challenge. There's no ambiguity in the mission: What we are going to do is prevent and cure cancer.

Q: What is your least favorite part of the job?

A: I don't have the resources to do what everyone wants to do. We have many generous donors, a kind legislature. But the pie is only so big. We won't be able to do everything at once. That's where the team will come in, to pick priorities.

Q: What do you want to tell people about cancer and health care that they really need to know?

A: I consider Moffitt to be a premier research institute and it's going to get better. But we never want to forget the reason we're here is for the patients. No one wants to be a cancer patient, but Floridians now have one of the top centers in the world in their neighborhood.