Donald Trump at CPAC

Mike Magner
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Mike Magner
March 6, 2014, 11:52 a.m.

The chair­man of the Pres­id­ent’s Can­cer Pan­el, ven­er­able Howard Uni­versity sur­geon LaS­alle Lef­fall, spent his last few days of sum­mer in Hel­sinki, Fin­land. But he wasn’t feast­ing on fish and frol­ick­ing through fjords.

Lef­fall, 80, at­ten­ded an in­tense, three-day brain­storm­ing ses­sion tack­ling can­cer and oth­er prob­lems with a unique ap­proach called “stra­tegic design,” in which ex­perts from a vari­ety of dis­cip­lines dis­sect the “ar­chi­tec­ture” of com­plex is­sues and try to de­vel­op broad solu­tions.

“It went bey­ond the physiology of can­cer to sys­tem­ic prob­lems,” such as how ex­er­cise and nu­tri­tion re­late to the dis­ease, Lef­fall said.

The Sept. 1-3 ses­sion was or­gan­ized by the Hel­sinki Design Lab, a pro­ject launched in 2008 by the Finnish In­nov­a­tion Fund to put stra­tegic design to work on glob­al prob­lems like cli­mate change and edu­ca­tion. This month’s event brought to­geth­er more than 120 par­ti­cipants, in­clud­ing Lef­fall, former Rep. Dick Swett, D-N.H., and former Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­ret­ary James Peake.

The design lab staff will is­sue a re­port on the pro­ject this fall, and Lef­fall plans to present it to the Pres­id­ent’s Can­cer Pan­el for use in its role ad­vising the White House on the Na­tion­al Can­cer Pro­gram. The re­port also could be help­ful for Con­gress as it de­lib­er­ates on the best use of pub­lic funds for can­cer re­search, pre­ven­tion and treat­ment, Lef­fall said.

Re­gard­less of how Con­gress de­cides where money should be spent on can­cer, it def­in­itely needs to con­sider an in­crease in re­search funds, said Lef­fall, a mem­ber of the Can­cer Pan­el since he was ap­poin­ted by former Pres­id­ent George W. Bush in 2002.

He noted that when Bush’s sis­ter Robin died of leuk­emia in 1953 at the age of 3, the dis­ease was nearly al­ways fatal for chil­dren. Today, child­hood leuk­emia has a cure rate of between 70 per­cent and 80 per­cent, he said. “That is all due to re­search,” he said.

Lef­fall is pre­par­ing to leave the Can­cer Pan­el as soon as Pres­id­ent Obama ap­points new mem­bers. Can­did­ates for the three pan­el po­s­i­tions went to the White House for vet­ting last week, he said.

But even as he enters his ninth dec­ade, Lef­fall said he has no plans to slow down in his full-time po­s­i­tion on the fac­ulty of the Howard Uni­versity Col­lege of Medi­cine, where he has been since 1962. Lef­fall stopped per­form­ing sur­ger­ies about four years ago, but his life’s work of help­ing pa­tients, both through treat­ment and by teach­ing med­ic­al stu­dents, “has brought me great joy,” he said. “I love it so much. I don’t plan to go any­where.”

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