A cardboard cancer clinic gives patients a taste of what's to come

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Inside the Emory Hospital Tower, a new cancer clinic is coming together, piece by piece, in cardboard.

This is a design dry-run of what will one day become Emory Winship Cancer Institute's phase 1 clinical trial unit.

Phase 1 patients volunteer to be the first to test experimental new cancer treatments that have never been studied in humans.

Dr. Donald Harvey, Ph.D., the Director of the Phase 1 unit, wants the space to be comfortable and easy to use for both their clinical trial participants and the staff who will work here.

"The critical part of this is this is, it is being built from the ground up," Dr. Harvey explains.  "The people doing the work, the patients, nurses, all staff, clinical research coordinators, everybody who is going to be in this space, is part of the delivery of this drawing and overall space."

Edward Cain, who at 70 has the blood cancer multiple myeloma, was invited to walk through the "cardboard clinic," and share his feedback as a patient advisor.

Cain says he likes coming to the original phase 1 unit, where he feels comfortable.

But, the space is small.

Tucked into the basement of the Winship Cancer Institute, it's only about 2,000 square feet,

with 11 patient treatment chairs.

"This will be increased to 22 total treatment areas, and about 3 times the space we're currently in," Harvey says.

But first, Cain and the staff are walking through a maze of cardboard walls, checking the flow of the new clinic space, and making suggestions.

"I think it's so smart to do that," Cain says.  "Because it will eliminate any errors by using the cardboard silhouettes."

On whiteboards, the staff and patients list what they like about the design, and what they think needs work.

"I think it's important because the customers (patients) are seeing what's around the corner," Cain says.

The new phase 1 clinic is a work in progress and will require months of designing, tweaking, and reworking the layout to get it right.

But, looking around, Edward Cain says this place is already beginning to feel like home to him.

It's a feeling, he says, that goes deeper than its architectural design.

"To me, whether it has windows or not, doesn't matter," Cain says.  "These guys are the best in the business."

The new Emory Winship Cancer Institute phase 1 clinical trial unit is expected to open by the end of 2018.