Rated PG: Cancer research will go on despite Dr. Rao departure

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The local business and medical community appeared to be taken quite by surprise with the sudden departure early this week of Dr. Jasti Rao, head of cancer research at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria.

It is no surprise, then, that some in the community are concerned about what Rao's departure means to the future of the Cancer Research Center at the school, a center he made possible largely from the work he'd been doing the previous decade to find better treatments or even a cure for brain cancer.

I've even had people ask me what I think would happen, like I would have any knowledge in that regard.

So I turned to Dr. Sara Rusch, regional dean at UICOMP who announced earlier she would oversee the cancer research center until Rao's replacement is found.

Question to Dr. Rusch: Is there any reason to be concerned about the future of the cancer research center with the abrupt departure of Dr. Rao?

Answer: No, we have a great team and a solid foundation in place, and the transition plan being developed will ensure continuity so UICOMP continues to build on our record of excellence and discovery. The Cancer Research Center at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria is widely renowned for the excellence of its leading-edge research on cancer, including brain cancer, prostate, lung, and pancreatic cancer.

In addition to our focus on cancer, UICOMP's expertise includes leading research on Alzheimer's, stem cells, spinal cord injuries, fetal alcohol disorders, patient simulation and health outcomes.

Question: The work already being done at the center will continue uninterrupted, will it not, because of the talent of the researchers already brought in by Dr. Rao and the school?

Answer: The research overseen directly by Dr. Rao as well the independent and funded research conducted within the Department of Cancer Biology and across the UICOMP campus continues.

People who know Sara Rusch no doubt feel reassured by her answer. I know I do. I believe UICOMP, the state and even the Peoria community have invested too much into the facility to let it go downhill. And given its reputation, built by the work of Jasti Rao, I have little doubt UICOMP will be able to find a top-notch researcher to fill those rather large shoes.

Those of us who know Jasti Rao are also concerned about the reasons for his abrupt resignation, particularly if it is for his own health reasons, as reported without attribution by the Peoria Journal Star.

We at The Peorian got to know Rao while working on The Peorian of the Year Award last year. The award was presented last August by AdCo Advertising Agency, the parent company of The Peorian and Rao was the winner from among five finalists in a vote by our readers. An award of $10,000 was also presented to the Children's Hospital of Illinois, Rao's choice to receive that gift from AdCo.

We found Rao to be personable despite being quiet and with all the awards and accolades he's received in his career he still was truly touched and honored by The Peorian of the Year award.

He was very deserving of the honor. We hope that if he indeed is having health issues that he recovers and can continue his work in cancer research, regardless of where that work takes place. It's that important.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).