Nov 05 2008

USA cancer institute officially opens

By Casandra Andrews

With a mission of helping people to lead longer, healthier lives, the University of South Alabama's Mitchell Cancer Institute officially opened Monday in Mobile.

Hundreds gathered in front of the glass-and-steel structure for the ceremony, in which Gov. Bob Riley; U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile; and others addressed the crowd.

Before introducing Riley, USA President Gordon Moulton spoke of his own battle with cancer and the school's long history of research and treatment of the disease.

Riley, whose adult daughter died from cancer, said the opening of the institute marked a transformation in Alabama.

"I know lives will be saved because of the investment each one of you made in this center," he told the crowd. "This is one of those defining moments in the history of the southern part of the state."

Eight years in the making, the institute quietly opened to patients in late September with a goal of combining cancer research and treatment in one place.

It is named for the Mitchell family of Mobile, brothers Abraham and Mayer Mitchell, and Mayer's wife, Arlene. In 2006, the family gave a $22 million gift to the university to support the institute. The USA Board of Trustees then named the facility for the benefactors.

Public tours of the $138 million facility were given Monday afternoon. Situated between USA Children's & Women's Hospital and Mobile Infirmary Medical Center, the center features state-of-the-art equipment used in the treatment of numerous cancers.

USA officials hope to employ as many as 700 people at the institute and accommodate as many as 35,000 patient visits annually. A key goal for the center is to become a National Cancer Institute designated site, officials said.

In his remarks, philanthropist Abraham Mitchell said that as he grows older, he looks for ways to preserve life.

He urged others to do the same.

"Today is not a destination, but a beginning," Mitchell said. "The Mitchell Cancer Institute will work to help end human suffering. It is for this reason that we should all continue to give."