OncoLink, a World Wide Web site at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Philadelphia, that deals with cancer research, information and patient support, is a prototypical example of how World Wide Web sites get started.
Its originator, E. Loren Buhle Jr., of the department of radiation oncology, started the project in his off hours as a labor of love after his 2-year-old daughter was treated for leukemia. He and two collaborators began to gather mountains of information, borrowing optical character recognition scanners when necessary, to computerize hundreds of paper documents. Their goal was to assemble all types of peer-reviewed cancer-related material in one place and make it easy to search.
The site includes information in more than 20 categories, and also directs users to other Web sites for additional material. There are colorful touches like an art gallery with pictures drawn by children with cancer.
The site has had more than 110,000 visitors since it premiered March 7, including medical researchers, insurers and many worried cancer patients or their relatives. Several hundred of its biggest fans are 3,000 miles away in Palo Alto, Calif., at the Community Breast Health Project, which uses OncoLink extensively. One woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer literally owes her quality of life to OncoLink, said Joan Schreiner, who chairs the group's information science and technology committee. The woman couldn't afford $1,000 a month for an anti-nausea drug she needed, but found through OncoLink that she qualified for the pharmaceutical company's indigent drug program.
OncoLink recently won a "Best of the Web" award from Web users and attendees at the first World Wide Web conference, held in May in Geneva, Switzerland. "The cancer center (at the University of Pennsylvania) has started to take some notice now that we've won the award" and may devote more official resources to the project, Mr. Buhle said. He and his colleagues are developing ways to monitor whether the site draws more patients to the hospital. But, he adds, "I know that most people who access OncoLink will never come to Penn for treatment, and I don't care."