Patient Care

Wilmot Receives $29M NCORP Grant: A Q&A with Gary Morrow

Oct. 1, 2019

Gary Morrow, Ph.D., MS., is the co-Principal Investigator with Karen Mustian, Ph.D., MPH, of the $29 million grant awarded to the Cancer Control and Supportive Care research program at UR Medicine's Wilmot Cancer Institute.

Cancer Control research focuses on making life better for cancer patients. Now, as a patient himself, Morrow, 75, says he’s been able to experience the science he helped to sow.

Over 40 years, Morrow built the Cancer Control program into a national model, continuously funded for decades by the National Cancer Institute. The current award is the largest single active grant at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

What do you think about when you reflect on your own illness and your research?

The journey has been very interesting and I now benefit from it in many ways.

Gary Morrow and Supriya MohileI was diagnosed nearly 10 years ago with prostate cancer and I’m still alive. I’ve received many types of cancer treatment but in addition, I’ve followed the latest advice from my fellow scientists about symptom management. Literally, since my third year, I have been in Karen’s lab ( PEAK) two times a week exercising. I have no idea if that is what’s keeping me alive but I’m doing it. I’ve also been taking lots of vitamin D due to Luke Peppone’s research. Is it helping to keep me alive? I don’t know but it’s not killing me. And now that I’m of a certain age, I understand geriatric oncology issues first-hand, and I follow the recommendations of my people, who’re leaders in that field like Supriya Mohile. I never turn down a good idea.

The point is: I believe in what my people are doing!

When I began, 40-plus years ago, the only notion was to cure cancer. But as it became clearer that you were not only treating a disease, but an actual human being — things finally started to change. We were among the first to show that you could treat symptoms like nausea and fatigue, and build science around it.

Before that, patients just soldiered on, and hoped that it wasn’t too bad. It was assumed that toxicities were a cost of doing business.

Now, there’s a bit more recognition of the human side to the disease.

Morrow was part of a pioneering team that addressed chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. He helped to run five large nationwide studies establishing that anti-emetics could improve the chances that patients would complete their entire cancer treatment regimen. The work has been named as a top five cancer advance from the past 50 years.

How does it feel to know you’ve helped so many people?

Anybody who gets into research looking for accolades probably belongs someplace else. We are terminally curious people and want to know how things work and how we can make things better.

Treatment of cancer is not a walk in the park — and to know that you’re making things better is a great way to spend your day. And working with bright, energetic people is terrific, too.

You have a lot of pride in your team?

This is very much a group effort. Everyone contributed to the grant, although Karen and I carried the pack up the last hill.

The Dean ( Mark Taubman, MD, CEO of URMC) has been very generous in his support as well. His support showed the NCI review committee that the institution views us as important.

Back in the day when all of this started, it was just me, my administrator, a pad of paper and a No. 2 pencil. We’ve come a long, long way and it’s really nice to see. This program now has about 26 members — a pretty powerful group of colleagues — each of whom is recognized for their own accomplishments in the field.

Everybody is part of the whole. Things like this make me recognize how proud I am. These are good people doing good things .