Dempsey Center, Jackson Laboratory announce cancer-fighting partnership in Maine

Patrick Dempsey and his mother, Amanda Dempsey.
Courtesy of The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing
Patrick Dempsey and his mother, Amanda Dempsey.
Edison Liu
Linda Coan O'Kreisk | BDN
Edison Liu Buy Photo
Posted April 04, 2014, at 12:58 p.m.
Last modified April 04, 2014, at 3:08 p.m.

Two of Maine’s top names in the fight against cancer will join forces, The Jackson Laboratory CEO Edison Liu said Thursday.

The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing, based in Auburn and founded by native Mainer and actor Patrick Dempsey, will enter into a partnership with the Bar Harbor-based Jackson Laboratory, Liu said.

Dempsey and the laboratory were named co-recipients of the Maine Center for Creativity’s 2014 Maine Creative Industries Award last month. Liu and Wendy Tardif, executive director of the center, appeared together early last week in a talk about creativity in Portland.

Liu said the partnership talk “was a spur-of-the-moment expression of our mutual passion toward solving the cancer problem. But we’re going to follow through with it.”

Not long after that mutual speaking engagement, the center announced that Amanda Dempsey, Patrick Dempsey’s mother, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 79.

“With Patrick, we were looking at someone who achieved a lot in the arts. But not only did he do that, he also gave back. Patrick did an incredible job in giving back to the state of Maine in a heartfelt way. He understood what people with cancer go through,” Jean Maginnis, founder and executive director of the Maine Center for Creativity said Thursday.

Maginnis said her organization is “excited that the spark [between the Dempsey Center and The Jackson Laboratory] happened.”

“They’re just forming it, so it’ll take time for them to work out how that looks … and I think you’ll find some exciting things coming out of that collaboration,” she said. “I think this is a wonderful moment in history for the state of Maine — we were able to put them together, to highlight them and spotlight them, and they have the innovative approaches themselves to say, ‘We can work together toward these common goals.’”

Dempsey, a Buckfield native who is perhaps best known for playing neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd on the hit ABC show “Grey’s Anatomy,” founded the Dempsey Center six years ago.

He also has appeared in a wide variety of Hollywood films over nearly three decades, including 1987’s “Can’t Buy Me Love,” 1995’s medical thriller “Outbreak,” 2008 romantic comedy “Made of Honor,” and the 2011 big-budget action movie “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

Founded in 1929, The Jackson Laboratory is a world-renowned biomedical research institution. In addition to its Bar Harbor site, there are facilities in Connecticut and California. Over its history, the lab’s scientists have been credited with establishing cancer as a genetic disorder and performing the first experimental bone marrow transplant, among other medical breakthroughs.

The Jackson Laboratory is Maine’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.

“This is a very elite crowd. Our focus is basic science, and we’ve been a cancer center for almost 23 years,” Liu said. “The Dempsey Center deals with the other side of cancer care, which is the emotional support, the logistical support.”

Liu said it remains to be seen how the two institutions will work together specifically, but he called the respective strengths complementary.

“It’s not common that holistic medicine and basic science get together for collaboration, and [we need to decide] how do we do that so that it makes a difference, so that it’s not just cosmetic,” he said.

“The idea that massage and group therapy is somehow not helpful in cancer because there’s no objective view that it changes mortality is baloney. Helping people feel better emotionally is an important part of the treatment process,” Liu continued. “It’s also silly to say that therapies that scientists have pulled together are all poisons and are bad for you. They’re not — they make a significant difference for people.”

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