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January 19, 1995

Reorganization of breast cancer project could be finalized soon

An administrative reorganization of the Pitt-based National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) could be finalized as early as today, Jan. 19, the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute's director said yesterday.

Ronald Herberman, who has been NSABP interim chairperson since April, said the proposed agreement would divide leadership responsibilities as follows: Herberman would become NSABP's principal investigator for biostatistics, and former Pitt faculty member Norman Wolmark, a surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, would be the group's principal investigator for operations.

Wolmark was nominated two months ago by the NSABP executive committee to be the group's new chairperson.

Bernard Fisher, who co-founded NSABP and led it for more than 30 years before being forced to resign in March, has been offered the position of scientific director, Herberman said.

But the offer is contingent upon a settlement of Fisher's lawsuit against Pitt, Herberman noted. "The litigation is still up in the air," he said. "There would only be a role for Dr. Fisher once his litigation is settled." Fisher sued Pitt in U.S. District Court in August, seeking reinstatement as NSABP head and challenging the University's authority to remove him from the job. He also charged that the interim leadership appointed by Pitt was "undermining and destroying" NSABP, which is the nation's oldest and largest breast cancer research project. Fisher resigned as NSABP chairperson at the insistence of National Cancer Institute officials, following reports of falsified data in NSABP studies at a Montreal hospital.

Fisher was unavailable for comment last night as the University Times went to press. But he has said he remains dedicated to NSABP and hopes to regain a substantial role with the group.

A new NSABP administrative plan must be in place by Feb. 1, when the group's National Cancer Institute funding is due for renewal, NCI officials have said.

Wolmark, formerly a Pitt professor and surgeon-in-chief at Montefiore University Hospital, left Pitt in November 1993 following a bitter dispute with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center officials.

Wolmark accused UPMC of undercutting his authority at Montefiore, confiscating research funds and lab space from him, and forcing him out of his jobs as a tenured professor and holder of the Mark M. Ravitch Chair in surgery. UPMC administrators denied Wolmark's allegations.

— Bruce Steele

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