Simone Pitter, RN, at work in the new Phase 1 Clinical Trials Center at 55 Park St. Patients treated at the Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center facility help shape the future of cancer care.

Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven and Yale Cancer Center recently opened a Phase 1 Clinical Trials Infusion Center that will enhance research and make it easier for patients to participate in innovative clinical trials.

"This is a true clinical research unit," Rogerio Lilenbaum, MD, Smilow chief medical officer, said at a Sept. 8 ribbon-cutting for the facility, at 55 Park St. "This is where innovation and cutting-edge research meet  and offer patients new hope and new treatment strategies that otherwise might not be available to them."

The new center features a bright and comfortable infusion area, exam rooms which are larger than other Smilow units', a restful patient lounge, a private room and an integrated blood draw and vitals space. Staff work areas were designed based on provider and staff feedback, and provide much more collaboration space than in other units.

Consistent with the rest of Smilow, patients are cared for by a comprehensive team that includes physicians, nurses and other staff who specialize in oncology. What makes the phase 1 center unique is that clinical research coordinators, data management specialists and other staff work alongside the rest of the team every day.

Phase 1 clinical trials are the first in a four-phase process of testing cancer treatments, including new medications or combinations of medications, in people. Before they reach phase 1 trials, potential new treatments are first tested extensively in the laboratory. Laboratory research can show which treatments will most likely be safe and effective in patients, but cannot predict exactly how a new treatment will work with people.

Patricia LoRusso, DO, director of Innovative Medicine at Yale Cancer Center, called each patient who volunteers for clinical trials a "hero" who will help shape cancer treatment for future generations. One of those patients, Anita Marie Whiteway, joined a lung cancer clinical trial at Smilow three years ago after having half a lung removed. She is continuing with a clinical trial and shows no signs of disease.

"I can't tell you what this place means to me," she told the audience at the ribbon-cutting.

Patients at the Park Street center may receive cancer drugs by mouth, IV or injection. The center is an important component of the Smilow and Yale Cancer Center Phase 1 Program, which has more than 20 clinical trials open and more planned. Said Dr. LoRusso, "Many of the discoveries we make here will advance to bigger and better things."