Dana-Farber visitors get the royal treatment


Its reputation as a world-class cancer center attracts not only patients to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, but also international leaders – and sometimes even royalty.

His Royal Highness Prince Philippe of BelgiumHis Royal Highness Prince Philippe of Belgium views the Gene Display 

As part of a United States tour designed to develop relationships with organizations in a variety of fields, His Royal Highness Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, Prince of Belgium, visited Dana-Farber on June 29. The prince and his delegation met at the brand-new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care with Dana-Farber President Edward J. Benz Jr., MD, Trustee Jean Pearlstein, and senior leaders Lee Nadler, MD, Susan Paresky, MBA, Barrett Rollins, MD, Annick Van den Abbeele, MD, and Marc Vidal, PhD.

For Van den Abbeele and Vidal, who both grew up in Belgium, seeing the black, yellow, and red flag flying outside the Yawkey Center and meeting one of the country’s most important figures was particularly exciting.

“I received an email from Ambassador Herman Portocarero, the Belgian consul general, a few months ago explaining that the prince was leading a delegation on an official visit to the United States, and asking whether we would be willing to host him,” explains Van den Abbeele, chief of Imaging at Dana-Farber. “How do you say no to something like that? It was quite an honor.”

The day included presentations to the visitors on molecular imaging, bi-directional translational research, personalized cancer medicine, and cellular networks. Van den Abbeele spoke about the culture of integrated clinical and research programs at the Institute, and how the “bridged collaboration” between scientists in the Smith Building, clinicians in the Yawkey Center, and imaging clinicians/scientists in the Center for Biomedical Imaging in Oncology will continue to lead to breakthroughs in personalized therapy. This theme was also emphasized by Dana-Farber’s Chief Scientific Officer Rollins, who presented on the upcoming new genetic testing program at the Institute.

“We discussed the concept of cancer systems biology and the importance of modeling complex molecular networks that function inside cells,” says Vidal, director of the Center for Cancer Systems Biology (CCSB). “Understanding these networks is crucial in interpreting the effects of cancer-causing mutations. Because I knew the prince has four children, I used the analogy of the sociology of high school and that of Facebook to explain the concept of networks.”

Following the presentations, the prince took a tour of Dana-Farber including stops in the Nuclear Medicine Department, Vidal’s lab, the CCSB, and (in the Yawkey Center) an infusion room and the beautiful Thea and James Stoneman Healing Garden – a two-story space featuring seasonal flowers, shrubs, and plants nurtured by grow lamps in the ceiling.

Lots of logistics

The prince – who is next in line for the Belgian throne behind his father, King Albert II – is traveling with a group of senior officials from Belgium’s political, biotech, and finance sectors on the search for best practices to take back home. Notable members of the prince’s delegation who visited the Institute included the ministers of economy, foreign trade, new technologies, and higher education, along with the Belgian ambassador to the United States, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, and presidents and deans of several Belgian universities.

Prince Philippe is the honorary chairman of Belgium’s Board of the Foreign Trade Agency, which distributes information and studies about foreign markets for the benefit of its foreign trade organizations. While in Boston, the Prince also visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Genzyme, a biotechnology company. Additional stops in his United States trade tour included New York, N.Y., and Washington, D.C. – where he met with Vice-President Joe Biden and Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and John McCain of Arizona.

The visit necessitated the involvement of many groups at Dana-Farber, as well as interactions with the State Department and Belgian palace personnel, to make sure all proper protocols and safety measures were followed. Van den Abbeele and Vidal praised everyone involved and are happy to report they have received wonderful feedback from the prince’s entourage, the State Department, and from the prince himself.

Dana-Farber is not uncharted territory for royals. Prince Charles, heir to the British crown, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, visited the Institute in 1986 and 2006, respectively. Most recently, in 2009, Princess Dina Midred of Jordan attended a global conference on breast cancer at the Institute.

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