‘Hiding in plain sight,’ revolution in fight against disease emanates from Palm Springs

On any day along Palm Canyon Drive, shoppers and tourists roaming the ground floor of an ultramodern building between Andreas Road and Museum Way could be perusing the latest high-end home furnishing or grabbing a pizza. They will likely have no idea that doctors who could one day cure cancer might be seated 30 feet above their heads.

Those doctors will probably be hunched over microscopes or attending lectures in what is now the epicenter of pathology — a state-of-the-art facility for the United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology (USCAP) that occupies the entire third floor of the West Elm Building. At one time, the 18,000-square foot space was being considered for apartments or condominiums. It now includes two microscopy labs, one of the finest video production studios in a region full of them, a lecture hall, and office space for roughly 20 employees.

“These classrooms are hiding in plain sight,” remarked Paul Lewin, USCAP’s chief operating officer, during an open house April 8 that gave community members their first opportunity to see the $4 million project that quadrupled USCAP’s footprint in the city. The more than 100-year-old nonprofit organization moved into the West Elm Building last year after relocating to Palm Springs in 2015 and setting up in the 500 Building less than a mile to the south.

Lewin is a third-generation city resident whose family name is familiar to anyone interested in art (his parents and grandparents owned the iconic Adagio Galleries and B. Lewin Galleries). He also served on the Palm Springs City Council. But he’s just one of several longtime city residents who are now helping to educate thousands of pathologists who trek to the city or subscribe to USCAP’s online learning courses, produced in the Palm Springs studios.

Ethan Kaminsky, who found success with his own photography and production company, now runs those studios; Christian Giangreco is USCAP’s director of information technology. Both are members of the Palm Springs High School class of 1988 who said they never imagined the stars would align to put them front and center at an organization such as USCAP.

“All these coincidences that started in high school ended up like this,” Giangreco explained outside the labs as attendees of a ribbon cutting passed by on tours with appetizers and drinks in hand. “We didn’t think it would get to this level, but it has,” Kaminsky added.

Paul Lewin (left), COO of USCAP, gives a tour of the facility to Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton (far right) following a ribbon cutting ceremony April 8.

Where USCAP is today is a far cry from where it was when another longtime Palm Springs resident — Dr. David Kaminsky, Ethan’s father — first laid out his vision in 2014 to a somewhat skeptical USCAP executive committee and board of directors. Dr. Kaminsky, who retired last November at 77, served as chief of pathology for 30 years at Eisenhower Medical Center. Like many physicians, he kept up to date on the latest advances through journals and seminars. But with advances in online learning and teaching technology, Dr. Kaminsky knew he could not only change how pathologists learned about their chosen field, but also reach a wider audience, quicker, using videos and live learning sessions that could be accessed online anywhere in the world.

With Ethan on board as the creative director, and his father serving as executive vice president, USCAP took off. The organization went from roughly 130 online course subscribers to 1,500 in just six months, and today has 20,000. Courses with titles such as “Contemporary Issues in Breast Pathology” and “Modern Approaches to Classification of Hematolymphoid Neoplasms” may not sound like box office sensations, but they are literally saving lives.

“We’re building a body of knowledge on diseases, and from diseases come cures,” Lewin said, pointing to USCAP’s ability to rapidly spread new information about immunotherapy, a type of cancer treatment that helps train immune systems to fight cancer.

“You can cut it out, you can burn it out with radiation, or you can poison the body through chemotherapy,” Lewin explained. “That’s why cancer is so devastating. But when you turn on your immune system to fight the cancer, that’s revolutionary.”

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